Raavan Aaya Travels to the City of Joy- By Sanyukta Saha
Think Arts and Jhalaphala reached out to us in the month of May to take Raavan Aaya to Kolkata. Raavan Aaya was the opening proscenium play at Jhalaphala’s annual theatre festival for young audiences, Ikir Mikir, supported by Think Arts. We also performed at Mahadevi Birla World Academy and New Town School to middle and high school going audiences. The fourth show was at Swabhav, for a group of theatre practitioners from various grassroot level theatre groups from West Bengal, Delhi/NCR and Jaipur.
We were in two minds when the invitation came in, as we already had plans of traveling to Srinagar during Ramzaan, and knew that we would be pushing the families of the actors by asking them to let their children travel during Eid. We are still a bit taken aback by how little the families resisted to this idea. Two days after the Ballabgarh lynching, we unfortunately had to wish each other Eid Mubarak in hushed tones as we made our way to the City of Joy. Most of the festive day was spent looking ruefully at the glitter and festive glow through our windows as we passed many a small village and town in Bihar and West Bengal.
16 of the cast members, and Anirban, Sanyukta and Naveen (from Third Space Collective) split into two groups at the nostalgia inducing Howrah railway Station, to find our way to homes generously opened up for us by relatives in Jadavpur and Salt Lake City. With 24 hours of travel for the third time in a span of three weeks, the evening had to be spent celebrating Eid, in all sorts of gorgeous finery we assembled at Azad Hind in Ballygunge to fill ourselves up with Biryani, and fill ourselves up we did. Calling it an early night, content with laughter, friendships and amazing food, we prepared for the marathon performances beginning the next day.
We had realized that traveling and coordinating between the two houses that were hosting us was going to be a challenge, what with all the props and costumes we were constantly lugging around. An adventure began on the 27th of June with the show in Gyan manch and the preparations that preceded. The setting up included Neel, the director of Raavan Aaya, on a video call, to check out the light design. Hail modern technology! After the big evening with many familiar faces in the audience (included Neel’s father!), we feasted on famed Kolkata egg rolls. The two shows the next morning were scheduled at schools at opposite ends of the city, and we made it through the humid day, full of anticipation and activity, inspired by the insightful questions and comments that came our way from the students.
The last morning in the city we packed all our bags and headed to Rash Behari Avenue to meet our friends – Vartika and Ankur at Swabhav. The plan was to spend the morning sharing with each other about our practice, and then explore Gariahat before boarding our train back to Delhi from Sealdah station. As we reached the beautiful, old house that is now Swabhav’s nest for the gorgeous work they do, we decided that we could actually perform Raavan Aaya, for all the participants of the playwriting workshop that was in progress. It was a very different experience performing for an audience comprising of just theatre practitioners. It was also exciting using the house and its elements for the piece.
The performance was much appreciated and led to conversations about the role of theatre in society, for it to change. We shared our perspective of beginning by understanding and developing the self for the its connection with society to become tangible, so that change is tangible. Listening to narratives of theatre groups working with labour movements, and villages, made us reflect on our own practice in the urban landscape of Delhi. Bittersweet conversations led to consuming melt-in-the-mouth rosogollas, a walk in the rain through the streets of Gariahat and a mad sprint to the station.
While it’s lovely having our feet rooted in Delhi for a while as we work on our next production and the many big plans for Aagaaz, the travel bug has definitely bitten us, and we are holding our breaths for the next opportunity that comes by.