> Dolly Thakore's 'Life in the Theatre'


A recent news item about film actor John Abraham wanting to do a theatre workshop with Naseeruddin Shah must have caught the attention of many readers.  It is bound to provide a much-needed boost to theatre and its practitioners.  As it is the newspaper columns regularly announce numerous workshops for varying ages and purses.

But what delighted the cockles of my heart was the Sujaya Foundation’s Language, Thoughts, and Theatre Showtime at the Tata Theatre in Mumbai last month.  And the ‘sutradhar’ came on to explain that since cricket and football and such like engage and entertain the participants and onlookers alike, the organisers had devised a theatre sport with coloured score cards which involved the audience voting for the best team of six groups that were to perform.

Those who are interested in more than just fashion and sports, may be aware that there is a demand from the lesser privileged who attend Municipal Schools to introduce English as a subject to be taught to them for better prospects in the world outside.  And the objective of the Sujaya Foundation founded by Neelambari Rao is to introduce language and bring about this change for the betterment of the underprivileged.

To quote from the programme brochure:  Aristotle was the first to mention ‘improvisation’ as being at the source of theatre.  In the centuries that followed Improvisations were used by vagabond theatre groups that performed on secular occasions.

The Italian Commedia dell’Arte used this form to diffuse social messages up until the 20th century, In the 1980s, this technique was found to be very useful in teaching languages.  And the Sujaya Foundation adapted this technique to allow the children to play out their interpretation of the world.  While the ideas and the story was their own, the children were given time to practice with their teams – divided into red, pink, yellow, green, blue and orange.The children were from varied backgrounds studying in vernacular medium schools.  Speaking English is aspirational and hard work for them. So they had to make it entertaining.

Sujaya Foundation very admirably displayed how they used this theatre technique -- not only for acquiring language skills but also as a means for the kids to reflect, to wonder, and to venture into new ways of thinking and being.

The children had to put on a show without a script; to observe what is happening in the world around them, and create a story about it – create a setting, create credible characters, get the story to roll and climax – and all within the span of one minute.

It was their awareness and sensitivity to the world around them that amazed me. I’d like to share some of the themes that the children tackled….

Amchi Mumbai – about all the green spaces being taken over by the hotels; the constant refrain of turning Mumbai into Shanghai and an international city – while   there was flooding all over, and  local residents swimming in overflowing roads and gutters!!

The next theme was about Fair & Lovely….girl going for a job interview and keeps preening ‘I am fair and lovely’ but the dark one gets the job; the mother who keeps boasting about her fair and lovely daughter, but when blood transfusion is required it the dark boy who comes forward and helps; another fair and lovely who fails and the dark one who passes.

Another delightfully topical theme was about Osama – with all his wives fighting over him.  And the conclusion they don’t need the Americans to kill him off, the wives will finish him!

It was one of the more exciting theatre evenings I have attended…so touching, and thought-provoking --and with an intention and message very close to my heart.