'अवितोको' ने इस बार थाणे केन्द्रीय काराग्र्ह में 10 दिवसीय थिएटर वर्कशॉप का आयोजन किया. अंतिम दिन 11 बन्दियों ने अपने द्वारा तैयार 35 मिनट का नाटक 'मुश्किल नहीं संभलना' प्रस्तुत किया.'टाइम्स ऑफ इंडिया की यह रिपोर्ट. अंग्रेजी में है, मगर विश्वास है कि आप इसे पढना पसन्द करेंगे.
CONVICTS serve up some culture
Prisoners at the Thane Jail expressed their creative skills in a play last week
Joeanna Rebello Fernandes | TNN
They were unschooled in the legend of Augusto Boal, and in the stage subset called Theatre of the Oppressed, but they became accidental actors at the end of a ten-day intervention. Last Saturday, 11 convicted prisoners huddled in makeshift wings, clamouring for more rouge and pancake as they nervously peered into the audience of 500 undertrials, minutes before the staging of their own piece. Nothing about their schoolboy jitters betrayed their crimes, although the yellow bands girdling some sleeves did—these were murder convicts.
As they cautiously trooped on stage, the barebones recreational hall at Thane Jail erupted in whistles and hoots. The actors launched into a series of rehearsed vignettes, depicting the downward spiral of a young man bedevilled by alcohol and drug addiction, beset by AIDS and taken by death, but returned to life for his penitence. Thus the play ended on
a hopeful, yet admonitory note: Getting high will only bring you down, so avoid addiction before it gets you.
These men would know—many of their own crimes were committed under the influence. At the close of the play, the lead actor, a young man called Dattatreya, who swayed and slurred as if he really had quaffed a stiff one in the wings, explained his authenticity: “I used to be an addict outside, and I can honestly tell you I’ve only now learnt the curse of my addiction. It’s the reason I am here.’’
All began to catalogue their pre-prison failings, hoping to serve as examples to the rest. “I was a driver with a rich family, and I never thought twice about blowing up money, until I came here and had nothing,’’ said middle-aged Vinod Jagda from Rajkot. “Ninety per cent of us are here because of addiction,’’ Vikas Mohanrao Jade reminded all. “And only when each one of us has given it up for good can we say this play has been a success.’’
The trigger that turned these men into expressive angels of advocacy is a woman. More accurately, Hindi playwright and author Vibha Rani. When Rani established a group called AVITOKO in 2001, she wanted to give society’s deprived a window that looked into the soul and onto the world. And she chose a community that had lost faith in its own creativity and humanity—prisoners. “I wanted to give them a way out of their desperation and ennui,’’ says Rani, who has, in the past nine years, roused the inmates of jails in Byculla, Kalyan, Arthur Road, Thane and Pune to paint, sing, recite poetry and perform drama by arranging workshops and lectures by artists and litterateurs.
But providing convicts with catharsis isn’t that simple. “Seventeen convicts had volunteered for this performance and 11 stayed on. They were very reserved and lethargic at first, but after two days they thawed. Finally, they were so taken with the concept that they’d practice even if I didn’t show up,’’ Rani recalls. “And where before they’d retire morosely to their cells at dusk to reminisce about their family, they’d now energetically discuss the play. It diverted their minds.’’
At the workshops Rani interviews prisoners and puts them through drawing and physical exercises, exploring their talents. But she never probes the reason for their incarceration. “Once I asked a prisoner about his back story, and he begged me not to, saying he lost sleep for 15 days when he thought back to that incident.’’ So she focuses on their creativity and ideas. “I give them the threads,and leave them free to spin the yarn.’’
As with the last performance, the prisoners are jumpstarted with just the theme, like Addiction And AIDS. They then imagine each scene, with a little help from Rani. “I draw out their latent talents and prompt them to make connections,’’ says Rani, adhering to the Boalian doctrine that each person is at once spectator and actor.
And while the staging of last Saturday’s play was admittedly amateurish, when you consider the context one
would call it expert. Though thorough novices, the convictdrama-kings pulled off a concatenation of tableaux with vitality and skill—from a doping scene to a wedding and a market, and mafia, prostitution and death sketches. Hymns segued into humming, and props like dupattas became alternating symbols of conviviality or debauchery or danger. “When I had to speak before an audience in school, I would run and hide in the toilets,’’ said Jagda, proud of his portrayal of a predatory to-be father-in-law, who, in demanding a kingsize dowry, brags that he had recently refused the hand of Priyanka Chopra for his son. “The dialogue was all improvised,’’ laughs Rani, letting on that at that morning’s rehearsal, the scorned proposal was for Ambani’s daughter—an amendment made for reasons known only to the actors.
As the play came alive, with new parts and tropes tacked on by the ‘lifers’, another addition was 27-yearold Prithviraj De, an undertrial eminent within those 19th-century walls as ‘the artist’. A graphic designer and art director, De, a quiet, diminutive chap, says he has been booked for murder, although injury caused to the second party was by way of self-defence. “I heard about this man who sketches portraits of prison life and the staff, and decided he must be part of the play,’’ narrates Rani. And that gave birth to the character of ‘creatorchronicler’—a person who sketches the occurrences on stage, and expresses his sorrow at the dissolution of man.
If self-expression is what Rani strives for, she and her inmate actors managed it superbly. Even the superintendent of Thane jail, Y D Desai, was impressed. “People on the outside hold the false belief that convicts are no good. We need to change that misconception,’’ he says. And in congratulating his wards on their choice of subject, he narrated the anecdote about the demon who goaded a man to commit a crime. “Abuse your parents, the demon said. The man refused. Beat your wife. The man refused. Kill your friend. The man refused. The demon then suggested he do something far less criminal—he bade him take drugs. The man did, and went on to abuse his parents, beat his wife and kill his friend,’’ concluded Desai. The prisoners roared. Hopefully they will remember.
PRISON BREAK A group of jail inmates educates undertrials on the evils of substance abuse