Changing mindsets through theatre

positive perception

While Aamir Khan’s latest film might be credited with setting the tone for a discourse on superstitions emanating from religious institutions, a group of government school students entered into their third year of fighting against, what they call, ‘ignorance spread by self-styled spiritual heads’. The students have been performing adaptations of English plays for the ‘economically underprivileged’ to make them aware of the ‘exploitation’ by religious gurus. 

Named as ‘Mirror’, some of the members of the theatre group are as young as 14. Their latest production is an adaptation of a short story by Brothers Grimm titled, The Three Sons of Fortune, a tale about a people who due to their ignorance mistake an innocent cat for a devious monster. Towards the end of the short story, the people decide to kill the cat by bombing the King’s Castle, where the cat was initially brought to drive plague-spreading rats away from the premises. The adaptation by Mirror is titled as Tigdam meaning scheme.

“We have made some additions to the climax of the story. Our story does not end with the bombing of the castle but takes the audiences deeper into several other issues faced by the modern society,” said 19-year-old Mohit Pandey who in addition to have directed the play, has also acted in it. He says that the idea behind changing the original endings of plays and short stories comes from Bollywood directors Vishal Bhardwaj’s films who also happen to be a favourite of Pandey.

Tigdam introduces a ‘Baba’ who further misleads the people in believing that the cat is an avatar of god and that it is meant to change the fortune of the people around it.

 “I like Shakespeare and his Hamlet is one of my favourites. In Mr Bhardwaj’s film, Haider, the ending was changed. Hamlet takes his revenge but Haider does not. The message being that people should not avenge what bad was done to them because that can only lead to further violence. Our plays also try to change the end to deliver a message which can inculcate positive thoughts among the audiences,” Pandey added.

Sumit Rawat, 17, plays the role of the fraud spiritual leader. “Bolo Billi Mata ki jai” yells Rawat while practising for the next performance. Following the practice, the teenager shared his views about how their performances are part of a ‘larger movement’. “The Indian society has to thoroughly introspect all parts of their lives.

We tend to indulge in blame games and find fault with outsiders for the evil within. Such plays are an important part of the process of that introspection,” says Rawat.  
Ask him who his favourite actor is and he is quick to respond, “I like Salman Khan because of his muscles, but acting-wise Naseeruddin Shah has no comparison,” says Rawat while the rest of the troupe shares a merry laugh. The smiling faces however become grim when these youngsters start talking about the issues they bring up through their performances.

In one of their play’s, the teenagers critiqued the thoughts of the Indian society after it learns of a rape incident. Among their other projects was also, Ek Kahani Jagjit Kaur ki, a story based on Jagjit Kaur who was allegedly raped by a senior police officer in Ludhiana. “After the crime is committed people either blame the girl or the boy. Our theme was about how people react and the things they say. It’s an inexploration of how we behave, rather than our opinions,” adds Pandey.

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