Art of questioning

Ambika Shaligram
Friday, 17 August 2018

A chat with three students on how working in theatre has changed their thinking process and made their lives more meaningful

Theatre, as we all know, is a powerful medium in bringing about transformation amongst the audience, and also its performers. Testifying this are three bright kids — two presently studying in iTeach’s Sri Sant Gadge Maharaj Secondary English Medium School, Kondhwa, and another who is an ex-student. 

A brain-child of Teach for India fellows, the idea was to expose the kids to the social evils around them, make them aware and eventually question these practises. Giving us a brief, Ankit Chawla, says, “At the Sant Gadge Maharaj English Medium school, we decided to work with students of Std VIII, IX and X and introduce them to the medium of theatre, specifically street plays. But we haven’t limited their performances to open spaces like school ground, we also stage them in inter-school competitions. While putting together a play, we discuss possible angles to the social issue. Then, we script it. The plays are mostly knowledge pieces through which we try to address questions like ‘What is empowerment’? ‘What is superstition’? We try to tell the crowd before us that this is something what is happening every day, all around us. Why aren’t we questioning? We believe that a 15-year-old will ask the right question. Can we bring about a change in one day? No. But we are trying.” 

Since this was a new thing for the students and teachers, the street plays were a culmination of the efforts of the both. “Next year,” says Chawla, “we want the students to write and direct their play. We want it to be solely their effort. On our part, we will give them our time, support and feedback.”

So far the students have worked on three street plays — She Can, She Will, Discrimination and Open Defecation. They tell us what it meant for them to work in a play and how it has changed them.

ADNAN QURESHI
“I played a father’s role in She Can, She Will, in which I give blessings to only my son and not to my daughter. My role is that of a man, who thinks that he can depend only on his son, and not his daughter, as she will be married off soon and go to her sasural,” he begins.

He also played a father’s role again in Open Defecation. “Through this play, we are trying to make people aware that they have to right to use a toilet. They need not get up every morning, take a lota and go to the fields. Relieving yourself in the fields or in open spaces, will spread diseases. A girl is shown to die in the play because she falls ill,” adds Adnan.

After acting in these plays, Adnan admits that the lens he used to wear in his eyes, has shifted a bit. “I never thought it was wrong that my father worked or my mother did only housework. Or that my younger sisters cooked while my younger brother watched TV. After acting in plays which talk about women empowerment, I have begun helping my sisters in cleaning the house. Or asking them to go to the market on some errands. Earlier, only my brother used to shop or buy stuff. I want my sisters to step out of the house and work. I want to ensure my sisters safety in the outside world,” he points out. 

“So far, says the Std XI Science student, “my parents haven’t objected to my thought process.” 

SHARON SUSAI
A timid girl when she joined Sant Gadge Maharaj School, Sharon didn’t know how to cope with new school, new students or talk in English. To make friends, she joined the school’s sport club, to learn football. “I realised that I need to work hard to play the sport. I couldn’t handle the pressure and I failed in class VIII.  So I went to the Foundation course. There I was helped by my teachers and when I joined iTeach again, I took part in the street plays. Earlier, I wanted to do minor roles, afraid of the crowd. But I coped and at the end of it, I couldn’t stop beaming. I had overcome my fears,” she says. 

In the next play, She Can, She Will, Sharon played a khadoos dadi, who wants a male heir for her family. “She would often taunt her daughter-in-law for not giving birth to a boy. At the end of the play, the daughter-in-law gives birth to twins — a boy and a girl. The dadi picks up the boy and kisses him. She names him Chirag. But doesn’t want to do anything with the baby girl,” adds Sharon. 

Through the play, they wanted to tell that Dadi was wrong. “It’s difficult to change the elderly persons thought process and opinions, like Dadi’s. But we can convince our parents to do so. My brother and I often discuss amongst ourselves, when our mother says or does the wrong thing. Later we tell her that she was wrong. My mother is slowly changing her way of thinking,” informs the Std IX student.

NITIKA NEHRE
Before reciting a monologue in the form of poem in the play, She Can, She Will, Nitika Nehre never realised that her elders could take a wrong decision. “I always thought that my elders will make a right decision. I never thought that they could be wrong; or that I can decide for myself. After taking part in the plays, I can speak for myself on the issues that need to be highlighted. I have found a medium to speak and be heard,” says the Std X student.

She is now scripting a play for Independence Day alongwith her classmates and also hopes to act in it too. “We couldn’t stage a performance on August 15 because we had less time. But we want to do a performance at the end of the month. We are writing a play on soldiers’ wives, when their husbands are at the border,” she quips.

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