The final performance

And so, on the morning of Tuesday 9th April, we set off to the basti with a truck full of staging, props and costume. The day before had been a long one. A morning of rehearsal at Swatantra; an afternoon running through the play by the temple in the basti, with the children who were part of the choir running through their songs with huge energy as the standpipes kicked into life and the water collectors gathered (making the route through for those on motorcycles even more tricky); and an evening working on dance routines in the beautiful Kamala Nehru park.

 

 

The morning of the 9th was, like many mornings before it over the last weeks, incredibly hot; in fact this had been the hottest April in Pune for sixty years. With the van loaded most of the cast made it to the basti on moped and motorbike, arriving around 1pm to build the stage. What had been clear from the visit the day before was that our original site for the play, by 5pm the expected time when the show would begin, was still in the sun and that would cause huge problems not only for the cast but also for the audience. And so we decided to stage it on the other side of the patch of wasteland that sits in front of the entrance to the basti alleys.

The setting up of the stage immediately created a lot of attention as children in particular rushed across to the site to see what was happening.

 

‘What’s going on over there?’

 

Some were put to good use, helping to put the finishing touches to props …

 

 

And for the next two hours up to twenty people built staging, hung banners, and laid out carpets as a make shift basti open air auditorium was created …

 

 

(With, of course, the obligatory tea break …)

 

 

The power supply for this impromptu theatre was provided by a local barber …

 

‘Can I plug it in now?’

 

And with around half an hour before the show was due to start everything was finally in place.

We weren’t sure what kind of audience the show would attract but were confident that a lot of people would come; and by now many had assembled wondering what to expect. By five pm the children were home from school and many people had returned from work. The cast went through the alleys of the basti calling out ‘Suno! Suno!’ (Listen! Listen! the informal name of the project) to drum up an audience and Dhanashree started to talk to the audience and to lead the children into a number of songs as a pre-show warm up.

 

Krushan prepares for the start of the show as the local snack seller looks to do a roaring trade

 

The crowd begins to gather

 

The show began with a sweet seller and his accomplice leading the audience through a tour of the basti as various locations specific to this community (the canal which sits at the back of the basti, the temple where many of the props were stored) were conjured up. From here the play told three stories – that of Madhav, who finds the remains of a rickshaw in the canal and who attempts to repair it; of Sushila, who is having problems with her mother-in-law; and of Radhabi, who has set up a successful litter picking business.  These tales mixed moments of comedy and more serious material as the play attempted to create a portrayal of the lives of the basti community. The script for the show had been many months in the making, based on a narratives gathered by Saba and Tejaso after a long period of engagement with the community in which they earnt the trust of those who came forward to share their stories. These were then worked on by the theatre teams in Pune and the U.K. to try and distill all of this material into a series of stories that captured key elements of the lives of those who live here – what brought them to leave their homes and to move to Pune; the challenges they faced in this new environment; and the ways in which they tried to overcome these, both as individuals and as a wider community.

The play was around an hour long and the audience appeared to be totally caught up in what they saw on the stage.

 

 

It was definitely the case that there were many more women and children than men present (although the second performance the next day brought a lot more men out) but there was much laughter and close attention being paid as characters that the audience recognised from their own experience weaved their way through their different stories; culminating in Madhav’s dream of being a rickshaw driver being realised thanks to the unexpected help of his neighbours.

 

There’s room for everyone! Come on; we’ll take a ride right around the basti!

 

With a final song (Suno Suno) and the reappearance of the children’s choir the show was over and it was time to pack everything up, once again with dozens and dozens of children running around. Those from the community who had helped the company set up the stage found that there were one or two more faces willing to carry things to the van; and those who were only now returning from work were wondering what had happened, as around three hundred people moved back to their houses in the narrow lanes of the basti.

It was a long, long day for the company, after a long, long week of rehearsals and production work. Tomorrow it would be done all over again.

 
 

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