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The ultimate fork… and the point of No Return.

2 possible roads to travel on. One decision.

Will he pull that trigger?

That’s where Y begins – and that’s where Y ends. With a question. A really BIG Question.

Y Gripsyouthplay

When it begins you are thrown into a maelstrom of emotions, of memories, of ideologies and ideas. How can anyone get to this point? Specially an innocent, ordinary young adult; one who is the butt of jokes in every context because of his timidity, his aversion to confrontation, his shyness….

Exploring the process of radicalization is a tricky thing. When does it start? How does it begin? Who is responsible? What are the tell-tale signs? What’s the tipping point?

And the real biggie – What can we do about it?

Last night I returned home after experiencing Y. Not watching — experiencing. I have a dislike to violence of any kind and find it difficult to stomach even the thought of it. Even when I know it’s ‘pretend’. And there are several key points in several scenes where the dialogues remind you that it’s ‘just a play’. But is it? Reflecting as it does real life and the very real danger many young people find themselves in of going down that path – it makes me uncomfortable.

And I’m glad it makes me squirm – and I hope it makes everyone in the world feel disturbed, distressed and haunted by the question – “What can I do about it?”

Y explores the process of radicalization and achieves the challenging task of maintaining a balance between the varied perspectives – The intelligentsia that discuss concepts of freedom of thought & expression and expound on the need for liberalism. The zealous radical already sucked into the quagmire of fanaticism. The ‘bystander’ who apparently sees nothing, does nothing, is not involved and is not responsible…

It’s scary as it moves along [though some scenes could be a bit briefer and crisper]. As you recognize every subtle and not so subtle strategy used to the lull the senses, to blunt the capacity for critical reasoning, to chisel away at the ‘neutral’ beliefs of the unsuspecting target; pandering to his ego and crafting a false sense of power and confidence, you recognize that the target has become an accomplice – first by mere presence, then by subterfuge, and finally through a combination of false promises for the afterlife and coercion.

As the play ends, Palu transformed into Anjaney stands at a fork. Will he pull the trigger that will be, literally, his baptism by fire and send him irrevocably down the path of an extremist, a fanatic, a terrorist?

Does he still have a choice? Does he recognize that he does still have a choice?

Well to find that out, go experience the play. Get uncomfortable. Stay uncomfortable. And ask yourself the Big Question – What can I do about it?

 Note: Do the countless young (and not so young) people out there recognize that there are choices and decisions we have been making every step of the way that affect us and those around us? My primary interest is in the development of young children and the environments we create in which this development takes place.

The threat of extremism surrounds us; our capability to accommodate for individual and cultural differences takes a beating at every turn. I keep thinking of a caution, a hope I share with many different Grannies in The Granny Cloud. Though we began with the key goal of helping children learn a language, there are other goals that are just as important. [I think even more important]. To enable the capacity to ask questions, to search for related information, to arrive at rational, considered decisions.

Interactions between the children and the Grannies naturally lend themselves to an exploration of different lifestyles, of beliefs, of cultural differences among other things. Much of this is fun; but beneath that sharing lie the seeds of genuine mutual acceptance and respect. It’s what gives me hope for the future. It’s what makes me glad that it ends with a ray of hope. Thanks to the team and Maharashtra Cultural Centre, [not to mention the superb collaborative writing with Lutz Hubner] for another thought provoking performance. Thanks Shrirang Godbole, Vibhavari  Dixit Deshpande and the entire team.

We have a choice. Let’s exercise it.

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All of us, at some point in time of our lives have experienced sadness. Sometimes the sorrow is so deep and pervasive that we can’t shake it off. Folks around us may tell us to ‘snap out of it’, and yet we seem unable to do that.

Sometimes, there is a ‘valid’ reason for our sadness. At other times, the trigger seems incredibly trivial. Only too often,people think we are indulging in self-pity. And in professional settings, causes and potential interventions continue to be discussed.

Unfortunately, we are still a long way from destigmatizing  mental illness. While psychiatric intervention may be needed even on a life-long basis in some situations, medication does not address the totality of depression. One because it focuses only on the chemical changes in an individual’s brain because of the medication and two, it fails to address the myriad alternatives that can help maintain positive mental health, even attain it.

Preventing depression would be possible in many situations if we considered what we, as societies, as families, as friends do that pushes people over the edge. We could help a person climb back out of an abyss if we could reach out, unobtrusively with appropriate support. If we could inform ourselves about the realities of what a ‘depressed’ person ‘looks like’… if we can move away from the stereotypes often foisted on us by media that loves drama and sensational news.

Anyway, the reason for this rather long-winded introduction is that 7th April 2017 was World Health Day; and this year’s theme was Depression.

I participated in the various activities organized by CMHCC [Chaitanya Mental Health Care Centre] to create awareness about this issue. And the opinions I have held as a professional, as well as a lay person returned full force. A key component of this awareness programme was the screening of the film KAASAV [Directed by Sumitra Bhave & Sunil Sukthankar & Produced by Dr. Mohan Agashe]. That it gained recognition with the winning of the ‘Suvarna Kamal’ for the best feature film just the previous day was heartening that it might not get widely distributed seems a shame. http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/OldNewsPage/?Id=10366&Kaasav,/A/Marathi/Film/That/Has/Won/Laurels/But/Where/Are/the/Distributors

But what’s so special about it?

That it is an exquisitely nuanced film is only one of its many charms. Even without deliberately setting out to educate oneself about the theme of depression one could enjoy the film for its story line, its direction, its acting, its music, cinematography, even the beautiful locales [all indigenous!] it  is filmed in.

I’ve always been keen on using media for therapy. Seems a pity to drown in mostly inane, gaudy and stereotyped song and dance routines that Bollywood abounds with when we could have such sensitive empathetic fare!

Watching the film is only the start. It stays with you, as a good film should. But that also means that the emotional arousal, the subtle connect it creates could be gently channelled into conversation with those who need reaching out; or at least open the door to that possibility.

At a point in time when instances of depression seem to be on the rise even among children [including better quicker diagnoses] we need to pause and question what can be done. Is there ‘someone’ around us that we could help by just being there? Am I the ‘one’ that needs to make that little effort to seek help? Are we ‘those’ who are pushing ourselves and our children toward unmitigated and never-ending frustration that turns to helplessness and despair? It is distressing to hear every single day about a suicide, a retreat into a shell, a closing down of all contact…

Could a film like KAASAV be shown far and wide so someone out there will see IT isn’t the end…? That there are other possibilities…?

I think it could… and should. Because films and other media [as also other alternative therapies – dance drama, music and art] are powerful means and we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t use it. And even with just a film; we can just ‘be there’…

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/marathi/kaasav-wins-big-at-national-awards/articleshow/58063876.cms

A Reel Look At Mental Health: Through Kaasav, Mohan Agashe puts spotlight on depression

 

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A couple of days at the Grips ‘festival’ to celebrate 25 years of Grips in India. This time I have only been there as a member of the audience [and have had major guilt pangs on account of not having been able to help].

Since I had to go with Anand [it’s just too much of a nightmare if he’s out alone for any extended time these days], I  used the occasion to remind myself about another unique Grips feature. One that would help in developing media literacy…

Those of you who are familiar with Grips know that there is no ‘raising’ or ‘dropping’ of the curtain. The sets are changed in front of the audience. I think this has several advantages. One of these is that it very naturally informs the young [and old] audience about all the tasks needed to make that performance successful.. It’s not only powerful acting! Those who arrive early can even see lights and cables being put in place, sound system being adjusted, the actors milling around as they get ready for the performance…

Today, for the 2nd day in a row… it looked like the arrangements would have to be shifted at the last minute, from the lovely arena setting planned to one that was a covered space. The unseasonal rains threatened to throw off the performance. Fortunately that didn’t happen today… though it did drizzle enough to make the performance area quite wet. It petered out and a mop up did the job to some level. Yet the actors steps had to be a little more cautious than usual as they performed on the wet surface and through another small drizzle.

But the discussion to ‘move or not move’ took right there in front of the audience…

Yet again… it provided an opportunity to youngsters to become familiar with the many different challenges in putting on a performance, how the changes in props [simple, quick, yet very evocative] could bring about a complete change in the setting and take the audience to a different environment.

For children to be able to see this is important. It not just adds to the participative experience, but to provide  a dose of realism to a group that feeds on the unreal soaps and cartoons for the most part…

How I  wish we could have more of Grips, and similar initiatives ….

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Sad but true. We live in a world that is filled with distrust born of  ‘differences’. Differences born of religious beliefs. Communal tensions arising from fears of what we might do to each other. We have learned to eye each other with suspicion. To assume the worst in the other.

What’s worse is that not only are our children growing up in this atmosphere, but we are actively telling them how we stand apart from each other. How we are not, therefore, the same. One of the saddest examples of this that I saw was in an elite Bombay school that actually had the children tell everyone else in class what community they belonged to [and this in the immediate aftermath of the Babri Masjid riots and Bombay blasts in the early 1990’s!]

“pan amhala khelaychay”  [But WE want to play] addresses this issue head on. It is my absolute favorite GRIPS play [Anand’s too]. I have always enjoyed the music and the lyrics. The latter not only carry the tale ahead, but portray so delightfully the everyday mad rush in the mornings as each household prepares for the day and the children for school. [We used to play the tape in our home to egg Anand on… and he still listens to it with great enthusiasm!] And then at other points in the play, the lyrics and the music combined evoke  strong images of children torn away from each other, of bewildered children  trying to make sense of their now unfamiliar world…

I first saw ‘pan amhala khelaychay’ in 1996 as it emerged through rehearsals. As a member of the audience through umpteen performances over the years, it continues to enthrall. I must admit to going in with some reservations about what the show would be like yesterday. The performers were at a disadvantage anyway… having seen the play so many times before I have grown used to the nuances, the inflexions, the emphasis on certain aspects of the dialogue. But today’s troupe came through brilliantly [Mrinmayee – I really enjoyed watching you ‘in action’ and hope I get to know the rest of the group too!]  Though the voices were low  a few times, most of the time there were high energy levels that carried the audience with the events. It’s a powerful script [Shrirang Godbole – please, please, when can we have more?] and the actors did it justice. I still had shivers go down my spine, and fought the tear in my eye as the children tried to come to terms with the concept of ‘us’ and ‘them’. The moments of pathos evoked by the haunting music [Rahul Ranade at his brilliant best] were still the same. There were some really nice touches to keep it current. The nosy, orthodox neighbour has transformed into the  ‘bhai’ from the local underworld, the ‘rickshaw gangs’ have metamorphosed into IPL teams. 🙂

But there was one discordant note and for me that was the ‘audience’.  It’s sad that the only way we seem to have of showing appreciation is to ‘clap’. Somehow, to me, it seemed out-of-place…. just when the children’s world is coming crashing down around them… when they are having to face the harsh realities of adult strife and ‘war’, an audience that claps?! [Granted that it had to do with the powerful performances, but it would have meant even more acclaim if the audience could have stayed with the high tension ambience and retained the hushed silences.

I have many special moments in the play that I like a lot… and not only because of the insight they provide [often with humour despite the grim theme].  It’s also special because we made some fairly extensive resource material to use with it [following the GRIPS Germany approach]. That it never got used beyond pilot testing it because we didn’t have the resources to publish it… is another matter… 🙂 There is always tomorrow!

It’s a play worth seeing again and again, and like all good GRIPS  plays it ends on a hopeful, yet, realistic note. The parents agree to reconsider their decision to send the children to neighbourhood ‘community schools’. The children’s protest as well as its manner is not only viable in current times but a demonstration of constructive action.

I wish the play were no longer relevant… I wish we had been able create a better world for our children. But there you have it…. It’s an imperfect world and one that seems to get more and more fragmented as days go by… The lines between ‘them’ and ‘us’ seem to grow stronger…

Can we help children ask the questions that will break down the walls that divide us? “Pan amhala khelaychay” can help….

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Another day… Another GRIPS  play… and this one was worth the wait!

Project ADITI is about one of my pet peeves – Dance/Song Competitions for children. I [as many others] have always been concerned about the ‘behind the scenes’ pressures children are put under as they are egged on by parents, ‘well wishers’, media personnel on the look out for a ‘good story’, and society in general. A pressure that is, more often than not, inappropriate given the developmental stage these children are at. But all that, in another blog.

Now back to ADITI. The story revolves around an extremely talented youngster whose mother’s heart is set on her achieving stardom through her singing [through one of  these televised competitions we see so much of these days]. A dream of her mother’s own childhood, a dream her mother had not been allowed to follow. But must we offload on the children what we were unable to do in own childhoods? While that might have been unfair, does it help to continue to ‘perpetrate the same crime’ through yet another generation?

As Project ADITI unfolds, we are treated to some thought-provoking  situations that throw up all kinds of questions: issues of child abuse in all its forms, socializing with playmates from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds, unintentional yet hurtful discrimination between 2 children etc.

Finely nuanced through the dialogue, the body language of all the performers, the reference to currently popular [but easily replaceable] icons, and the SCRIPT; ADITI is an accurate portrayal of the way children are at ages 8 – 12. It comes through in their queries and the way those questions  are asked, it comes through in their acute observation of adult reactions, of their ultimate acceptance of their own reality. The humour is occasionally slapstick, [bringing gales of laughter from the youngest members of the audience], occasionally subtle – appealing even to an adult audience. It is even present in the way the word ‘celebrity’  and ‘star’ become choice abuse words!

ADITI represents many homes. Caring parents who want the ‘BEST’ for their child. Yet with misdirected efforts which lead to natural consequences of high drama and tension [Aditi loses her voice!]. The solution comes about naturally, with the active involvement of ALL, the protagonist with the support of her playmates who effectively bring to their parents attention her distress, but also the ‘next door grandfather’ who subtly intervenes and finds a way to chat with the parents about the situation. The parent’s willingness to go to all lengths [including visiting ‘ENT specialists &  ‘psychiatrists!]. And the culmination of it all, in a viable & realistic solution  which brings Aditi’s voice back.

As I have mentioned before… GRIPS plays always have hopeful endings… but what exactly do the children do, what do the adults do…what is the solution they work out? Go find out… Watch Project ADITI!  For me, it was a wonderful homecoming to GRIPS!

Thank you Vibha…. Kudos to the entire team!

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Didn’t think, I’d ever feel this way about a GRIPS play… but there it is! Yesterday’s play “mitra majhe” was disappointing. Not because of the performances or the direction, but the script itself. The theme related to a young girl getting ‘addicted’ to the computer and letting reading, playing outdoors become low priorities. Undoubtedly, a concern for many parents and a valuable ‘lesson’ for children somewhere. All GRIPS plays have messages… they all hold out hope… but preaching and sermonizing is OUT!

And when it has to do with something as appealing as the computer and the internet, we need to tread carefully. It’s a topic where ‘content’ becomes obsolete within a day [and a key feature of GRIPS plays is their evergreen relevance and appeal]. So there is a huge challenge for a playwright who wants to address this theme. Not getting caught in specifics that are dated, not giving in to the temptation to tell the children what’s GOOD for them.

After all, the computer is just a tool. It’s for us to use it judiciously. Getting scared off [often because we can’t fathom its depths] is not the answer. Could more scenarios with ‘natural consequences’ be presented? Could other ways of involving the children in activities that are as appealing [though perhaps for different reasons] be demonstrated? I think so. Perhaps as parents we need to ask ourselves what are the other things we do with our children? How can we make these more attractive?  How can we help them ask the questions that will enable them to take appropriate decisions? [And no one decision is going to be the RIGHT one for all]

In my middle 50’s and leading an ‘independent’ life, I baulk when told what I must do. How much more distressing must that be for a youngster exploring the world and all its possibilities? Let’s just be there for our children… By all means let us share how we see the world… but let’s be careful about that fine line. Let’s not fool ourselves and pretend we have all the answers… that we know best. Let’s avoid the sermon!

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I first watched a GRIPS play when Anand was only 4 years old. I didn’t know about the ideology then. I was just a mother trying to find meaningful theatre experiences for my son. I still remember taking Anand to Chhabildas School in Dadar [West], Bombay. What I remember even more is his response to this genre of children’s theatre. This is Theatre FOR children at its best. Both of us became die-hard GRIPS fans that day and have remained so through the years. The performers are typically adults [for a good reason, and one day I will write a blog about the ideology that underlies this approach].

After we moved to Pune close on 15 years ago, it became possible to be involved in GRIPS activities in many more ways, given that this is the HUB!

For a few years in between, for myriad reasons, I haven’t been able to participate in GRIPS programmes as much as would have liked to. But this year; it’s a different story. GRIPS is celebrating 25 years of existence in India and Anand and I were there for the 1st day of the annual Summer festival and plan on being there as much as possible.

A new generation of kids along with their parents who were once the child audience. Several of us ‘old timers’ stood behind and couldn’t hold back from silently mouthing the dialogue [and hearing it in our heads as we had done so many times earlier with different performers]. We sang along with the songs and the absolutely fabulous music [Rahul Ranade].

Some of the plays are adaptations from original German ones, some completely original Indian themes and issues, many the brainchild of Shrirang Godbole. That’s what makes them so special. They address head on, really sensitive issues, be it parental authority,  environmental concerns, or communal riots. They are filled with humour, reflect children’s realities, are not patronising or stereotyped in their portrayal of children. There are moments of high drama and tension. There are moments of unbridled laughter…. and at the end you go back with questions for yourself. And this happens again and again and again. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times you’ve seen the plays. Many of the plays have themes that are evergreen.

As a parent, I have to thank a lot of people for this treat we have had. Too many, but here are just a few… Dr. Mohan Agashe for bringing GRIPS to India, Shrirang Godbole for some fantastic play and song writing and direction, Rahul Ranade for music that creates the most delightful ambience. Rasika Oak [Joshi], Anand Ingle, Vibhavari Deshpande, Amit Patwardhan, Rujuta Deshmukh, Neeraja Patwardhan, Upendra Limaye, Devendra Saralkar… [I could go on and on] for some of the most energetic, mesmerizing performances. And there is  the next generation…  and the entire behind the scenes team… from the very beginning…but of these most specially Shubhangi Damle.  Through the years, she has stepped into any role needed, on stage and off, mothering each new lot of performers and audiences… enabling them to get the very most from this experience.

Thank you… all of you. Anand and I look forward to many more years of GRIPS 🙂

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