Suno Suno performance in the basti – 21/9

So on to the basti bus (as I am now calling it) and away we went as well as several scooters carrying actors, props and trash band sundries, ready for our performances. After some epic driving manoeuvres by our driver and Ashwin and Prem we arrived in the basti. Its an area that is full of life as people go about their everyday chores and work cheek by jowl with each other, houses crowded in amongst barber shops, sweet stalls, water taps and temples. By the way that reminds me that we landed in India right in the middle of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival (I’ll come back to that). Swatantra actors swung into action immediately, charging down the galleys to rouse a crowd for the first of our three performances. Children are always the first to take an interest and we had timed the shows for after school had finished. Before long we had gathered a crowd of 60 or 70 as the trash band cut through the traffic noise, although nothing stops the traffic as auto rickshaws and motorbikes weaved their way through the ‘stage’, which for this first show was the main street on the edge of the basti. (We later performed by the canal and then in the heart of one of the lanes)

The trash band really helped to draw the crowd and then we were intrigued to see how the scenes would be received. Swatantra are accustomed to adapting their acting style for the situation in the basti (raising volume, accentuating gesture etc) so the crowd grew during the second half of the show. This performance period is also a crucial stage for the RAs ro observe responses and make a note of how different scenes and themes are received by the crowd. In this way you hopefully start to generate a virtuous circle of research and theatre as the drama (informed by RA research) then stimulates greater response when performed, from which we may tease out a greater depth of sharing from the community after a performance … and so on and so on. After the Suno Suno song had ended Dhanashree invited the community to share stories of neighbours and several people stepped into the performance space and spoke, pointing to people they had a story about. The RAs commented after that this was the first time this had happened.

The show moved on to two more locations, with Saba and Tejasi chatting to specific people after each performance to garner their views on the show and to develop relationships for future interviews. Within the show itself the RAs were introduced so that the community could see the relationship between them and Swatantra. Dhanashree reinforced this with some chat about the project, woven into the show.

After three hours of intense performance we waved goodbye to the community in the basti and crept home through the crowded streets of Pune, clogged with the festival goers. The Islamic festival of Ashura was in full swing with free blessed bananas and yoghurt appearing through the windows of the bus and of course the cries of Ganpati Bappa Morya!! rang our everywhere in celebration of Ganesha. In short, don’t be in a hurry to get anywhere on the roads of Pune at this time of year.

In the next post its time to de-brief on this experience, but for now enjoy the photos! Mark


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