“Kahab to lag jaye dhak se
Bade bade logan ke bangla do bangla
Aur bhaiya AC alag se!”
Have you ever danced in the rain? Or sang your favorite song whilst listening to it through your earphones in a crowded place? It has the sense of elation that is rejuvenating, to say the least. It gives us a brief moment to forget about the race that all of us are running in life, it is a pit stop. Sitting in a performance by the children of Aagaaz Theater trust, I wait with bated breath thinking what’s to come. The children break into the popular song as part of ‘Duniya Subki’, a play inspired by Safdar Hashmi’s poem by the same name. It is the same spirit with which they dance to the song, only the lyrics make us aware of the stark contrast that the world is after the rain or after the song in our ears stops. It urges us to snap out of the skewed perspective that our comfortable lives give us so that we can look beyond.
Hailing from underprivileged backgrounds these children from Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti (in Delhi) ask questions that are intensely relevant to the current scenario. Who should the world belong to? Who occupies more space? Who has a louder voice? Through vignettes of the lived experiences of the members of the repertory this piece provokes answers to these questions.
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Time after the play is slotted for conversations between the actors (the average age of children being 15) and the audience. I see a member in the audience sleeping, reinstating the fact that it is indeed just another day for you and me in paradise. But not for these children. An audience member asks a question, indicating the disinterest shown by the sleeping man. She asks “Do you really think your play will make people want to find these answers?”. Ismail, a bright young mind of Aagaaz answers “We don’t know. But we do hope they will wake up!”
The story of UrbanClap with Aagaaz. Check out the video:
Aagaaz was formed with the same thought. It is an arts-based organization dedicated to creating inclusive spaces for learning, critical thought and dialogue in an attempt to weave a more equitable urban fabric. Engaging children and young adults across social & geographical boundaries, Aagaaz relentlessly questions ‘what is’ to probe ‘what could and should be’, to learn ways to act and perform beyond the stage.
It traces its foundation back to the year 2009.That was when Sanyukta Saha, the Founder, started working in Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti as a part of the urban renewal initiative with Aga Khan Foundation. What started as an arts education program in an MCD primary school, developed into a group of young theater enthusiasts. The relationship between this group and Sanyukta outlasted her relationship with Aga Khan Foundation and in 2015 Aagaaz was registered as an autonomous organization.
I spoke to Sanyukta after the play for a possible association between Aagaaz and Urban Company. I explained to her what the initiative was about, that we at Urban Company believed that everybody deserves happiness. We share the philosophy of creating inclusive spaces through our quality services, catering to everyone. And that is when we came up with the idea of helping Aagaaz with the set design for their next play. Lallan, our carpenter from Urban Company was happy to be on board. He even accompanied us to the workshops and the practices of the play and exclaimed every time, “The children are so talented!”.
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Anirban Ghosh who composes the music for the plays and is actively working for generating funds told me, “At the core, Aagaaz has about 30 children as part of the core team. This number increases and reduces time to time because of the restrictions that come from their families, their economic challenges, but the team has grown immensely in experience. The children’s dreams are changing. Muzammil, Ismail and Saddam want to go to regular college as they get ready to appear for their grade 12 examinations next year. They will apply through the ECA quota and all the theater they have done will hopefully see them through.”
Aagaaz is mentoring each child to find and work towards each of their passions. They have a very special group of mentors who volunteer from time to time. They come from a range of diverse professional backgrounds – ranging from arts to finance. Each of them mentors one child from the group. They learn from each other, finding meaning from the time they spend together.
Devika Bedi, another active member of Aagaaz theater trust, further enlightens me “Aagaaz performs stories against entitlement, gender bias, and exploitation to raise questions and create dialogues amongst diverse audiences. At the core, we use theater as a form of learning and communication thereby emphasizing on the need of a professional approach with set designs, lights, music etc. Urban Company’s help with the set design helped us to create something that is crucial and will be used for years in our plays.”
Aagaaz also performs their plays in schools other than the many public shows that they do. It perceives the need of each member and customizes programmes and collaborations on the basis of their needs. For them, the aesthetics are as important as the ethics of their practice. Hence, we ensured that the set delivered to them was every bit as great as these kids are. Like happiness, quality also doesn’t identify a line of demarcation. Everyone deserves it.
Aagaaz’s new production ‘Ravan Aaya’ debuts in July. You can also check out their production ‘Duniya Subki’. Follow them on Facebook to stay updated. Click here.