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Experiences with Papier Theatre

My introduction to Papier Theatre – and how I Survived!

Raju, Matia, Sonu… unforgettable characters spring forth from the pages of Shyamal Kumar Pramanik’s short story “Survival”, to share their gnawing hunger and degrading struggle to survive. Not an unfamiliar “Dalit” story. Yet they come home with me every night.

I have signed up for a Papier Theatre workshop for 3 weeks mid March, not actually being a puppeteer! From making documentaries, corporate films and Television programs for 20 years, I had gone back to my first love Theatre and was enjoying exploring its power as a tool to communicate and empower. At the core of it all was the consuming fire of storytelling, and as I realized, the greater the skill of the teller, the more magical the story.

“Alain Lecucq and Nargis Majd are Master Puppeteers, who will be focusing on the dramaturgy of the story, on the “What”, “Why” and “to Whom” you want to communicate with. You would enjoy it”. Anurupa’s words have me hooked!

I send in my application, get an acceptance and for the next 3 weeks, starting 14th March, I jump into my car at 8am and zip down the highway from Gurgaon, to make it on time for the 9:30 workshops at the Crafts Museum. This means no morning walks or exercise but such is my enthusiasm, that everything else is put on hold for 3 weeks. Of course I will pay the price of excruciating cervical pain once we go back to our “normal” lives, but I am so much richer for the experience!

It is an enchanting 3 weeks of stepping into a fairy tale world of make believe and watching it come alive! Starting with making simple paper stages and stories from personal experiences, we are exposed to some mind boggling videos of shows that Alain has done as well some of the most creative and innovative ones from across the world. I remember crawling back to the workshop space feeling most disheartened and almost embarrassed about what we had presented on the first day. The Bar of Excellence has suddenly gone so high, we have not even made our first baby steps!

Alain and Nargis are amazing as they alternate between being teachers, parents, guides and friends, adding to the warm bonhomie that has developed within the group. Starting with 11 participants, 9 of us complete the course, exploring 4 different stories through completely different formats.

My team mate Binitesh and me choose to work on Pramanik’s story “Survival”and spend the first few days diving deep into the themes and sub themes that the story opens up for us. Out of the 5 to 6 strands that seem to flow through the story, we have to crystallise our thoughts to choose one Central idea that will be our touchstone for all the creatives thereafter.

Wading through the complexities the story throws up for each one of us, we struggle to define that simple connecting thread, little realizing how important this will be, in keeping our entire presentation true to our central theme.

As I put pencil to paper and start allowing the story to flow into the storyboard, it comes alive in a way I have not experienced before – so simply and so quickly. I am Raju, fighting against the bitter cold, to feed and protect my wife and son – Matia and Sonu. It is my mother who has died an excruciating death while my father watches helpless in the famine, and I am determined this will not be the fate of my child.

Bini and me discuss, argue, agree, work together, reflect individually, share our thoughts and arrive at a consensus most times. It is fascinating to see a baby being crafted by two completely different individuals, drawn to a common theme, and to see it evolve from paper sketches into human characters as we draw and colour and fix them to cardboard sliders with “spines” glued to their backs.

Our little wooden stage is built by a carpenter simultaneously and as backdrop after backdrop slides into its slot on our stage, the characters or “paper puppets” glide on to share their tale of desperation and sheer grit to stay alive. At our final presentation at the India International Center, we add the magic of sound effects and focussed lighting and I am told that the effect is quite mesmerising. “Where would we be taking this show from here” is a question I am asked by many members of the audience.

Yes, where indeed would I be taking the show? Bini has gone back to Mumbai to teaching at his Film Institute, but I do have Raju and Matia and Sonu with me, who sit in my office room and look at me questioningly everyday! I owe it to them, to Alain and Nargis, to Ranjana and Anurupa, to our wonderful group who worked together and to Bini and me, to keep them alive and introduce them to all those out there who want to receive them.

Ah, the forest beckons and I promise we shall all walk through it again – soon!


Puneeta Roy is Managing Trustee at the Yuva Ekta Foundation


JP Blog Photo

A search for Dignity

Slums and Urban Villages have been an ongoing fancy of Social Sciences globally, particularly due to the acute problems of ‘Urbansiation’ they represent. Methodologies and conceptual paradigms have evolved over the years. There has been a steady rise among policy makers, activists and academicians alike, to focus on the idea of community growth and development. To be able to understand politics and social setup in a city like Delhi, requires us now more than ever, to get a firm grip on local political activities in various hinterlands of the city.

Jahangir Puri is one such area, forged carefully on lines of migration, region, religion, caste and class. A perfect microcosm for anyone who goes with the intention of ‘studying’ or ‘understanding’ the ‘other side of urbanisation’. However, we have to be careful not to romanticize our opinion on Jahangir Puri.

The Yuva Ekta Foundation has been trying to build in-roads into the area to start a ‘Community Theatre Program’. This project is a logical extension of our work at the Sewa Kutir Complex, Kingsway Camp, wherein we worked with ‘Juveniles in Conflict with Law’ for the past 5 years. Jahangir Puri has an inglorious reputation for being the bedrock of crime in the city.

Addressing issues specifically related to ‘Youth at Risk’ is a mammoth task. For this purpose, we have decided to take up one specific location in the city and start implementing a few of our ideas.

We have so far been able to fight innumerable barriers present either within ourselves as human beings and activists, or outside of our immediate control, in our ‘system’ (as we like to call it). At the first level, these barriers present us with unending questions about life ‘on the fringes’ and conditions, we in our offices aren’t used to. We begin to accept these questions not as challenges, but enriching experiences, which need to be looked at practically. Thus start our community visits, where we spend hours each day, going to people’s homes and trying to look at their problems empathetically. Most of our own beliefs are shattered for good; breaking inhibitions and creating ground for further work.

At the second level these barriers present us with institutional problems. How do we convince people to be a part of our project? What do we tell them? Are people willing to experiment with ‘Expressive Arts’? Where do we start our workshops? Of course the situation is out of control. Slowly and steadily however the pieces start falling into place. We are able to get people on board as we share our intent with them.

Here we are today, 2 months into the project, rounding up our first phase. Up to now, we have been able to get across to a little more than 60 families, each of whom has shared their ideas as to why they want to join this program. Each household has a story, each captivating enough for us to go keep going back and strengthening our connection.

Our Community Theatre Project is an experiment in ‘Community Centered Expressive Arts’. The idea is to make individuals more aware and involved in their life and surroundings. The challenge for us would be to address critical concerns in people’s lives through techniques like theatre, crafts, dance, music, up-cycling and more. We believe that through this medium, we will also be able to provide a reason for the residents of Jahangir Puri, to come together as one single unit, which can assert its rights and demands, collectively.

In this rather relentless exercise, we hope that as a Foundation, we can learn and grow manifold. The idea is not to impose our views and opinions on residents. We aren’t going there with the intention to ‘help the inferior’ in any possible way. Any inclination to think likewise is foolhardy. We, as facilitators, want to simply share, learn, expand and grow.

We start our second phase in the month of May. Schools are shut, the heat is on, but so is the intensity. We have invited all community stakeholders to participate. The group would be a pulsating unit cutting across age, gender, region, caste and religion. We simply cant wait to get back out there.

- Rijul Kataria works as a Research Coordinator with The Yuva Ekta Foundation.


Finding me – Jaipur Diaries

The finding me workshop has been one of the most amazing things that I have ever experienced. This has truly changed the way I look at life drastically.

Ten days ago, when I entered the workshop, I did not believe in the fact that we, the youth, had the power of affecting and influencing people and encouraging them to be the better people that they are. This workshop has made me aware that people of my age face all kinds of problems. That mine are not the most important. That I am not the only one. It has taught me that everyone in this world, no matter what their caste, creed, color, shape, size; are the same. That we all think alike and experience the same things.

When we set out to spread this message to the youth, the feeling was wonderful. I realized that helping someone else overcome their flaws or plain accepting themselves and others as they are, is the best thing one can do.

I have realized that we, the youth, can make a great impact on the world, to make it a better place for you and for me.

- Simran Jain from Jayshree Periwal High School was one of the participants of the Youth Outreach workshop at Jaipur Literature Festival 2016


Finding Me – Jaipur Diaries

A new experience is always a delight but I must say that this one was the best. The 6 days I spent at the workshop were a great step to find myself and  it made me aware about social problems and made me more confident and also I was able to understand that one person is enough to change things.

Being a part if this programme changed my perspective towards others and myself. I usually set prejudices for people but now I am beginning to realize that we can never judge a person without knowing him or her. Also, I realized that the most important thing in life is knowing who you are and accepting yourself with all your flaws.

When we interacted with students from different schools , we realized that many students were able to relate their lives with the scenes of our play and they said that we inspired them. This comment made me understand the power that we, the young generation possess and if we are determined we can definitely change all the ill practices around us and make the world a better place.

- Malya Sharma is from Rulmani Birla Modern High School and she was one of the 47 participants of our Youth Outreach workshops at Jaipur Literature Festival, 2016 


The Boy who was Afraid to Sleep

On the 17th of May 2015, The Yuva Ekta Foundation shared with the world its production as a part of the Kahani Festival, ‘The Boy Who was Afraid to Sleep’. It was a delightful little narrative about a boy who loves to live in a world of dreams. As happens with all happy stories, the boy loses his imaginary friend to a monster (an Octopus in our case) and decides never to sleep as he is scared to enter the world of imagination again. A Boy who loves sleeping hasn’t slept for nine months, three weeks and two days only to wait for a genie, who helps him overcome all his fears to make him happy, cheerful and sleepy again so that he can dare to dream.

It was a joyous experience watching this performance. For one thing, it made us enter into a magical world where anything was possible. The characters were able to successfully connect with the little ones in the audience whose innocent laughter and comments reminded us of the childhood we all dearly miss. But most importantly, this performance was a reminder to all of us that we should never give up on our dreams. Imagination is the biggest tool we have for it gives us the power to be a visionary.

The performance was followed by a workshop in which people of all ages, old and young participated. Everyone was asked to draw a character/person/figure who they imagined to be their friend. Three groups were divided and each individual shared their unique characters and stories to connect with each other and make one big story which was performed in front of everyone. Whether one was young or old didn’t matter. What mattered was that people were able to connect with each other through their ideas, expressions and stories.

We are extremely grateful to Teamwork Arts Pvt. Ltd. for helping us manage the venue and make it show-worthy. We would also like to thank One World College of Music for giving us the space and time to make this event possible. The Yuva Ekta Foundation will continue to strive and create a network of young people and minds who believe in the power of dreams!

- Rijul Kataria has a Masters in Sociology from JNU and is deeply interested in incorporating theatre in research. He’s an ex Yuva Ekta participant turned facilitator and is currently working with the Yuva Ekta Foundation


Natya Rasta Diaries

For someone, who’s had a very little experience in theatre but wants to stick with it for as long as possible, events turning out in their favor might seem like a little magic from the universe. Yeah, well, toning it down a little bit, I would say that I had always sought a connection in theatre, and as I was drifting away from it, things started to fall into place when exactly two months ago, I somehow got to know about a theatre workshop organized by The Yuva Ekta Foundation and went there to attend it. Little did I know was that this workshop will lead to a course of an entirely new experience for me that I would remember for my life.

SOF Naatya Raasta, a platform for aspiring actors to showcase their skills while working for a social cause urged me to be a part of it and right from the auditions to the final performances, each aspect of this process has managed to etch itself and this will stay with me for the longest time possible.

To begin with, a bunch of young adults came together to experience an entirely new domain of theatre under the supervision of Puneeta Roy, which remains to be our lodestar till now and for other performances to come. 13 of us were total strangers to each other and in a span of two months, amidst all the practice sessions, scripting process and the warm-up games we became a team and like true team players, relied on each other at one point or the other.

The cause that we worked on ranged from redefining masculinity to power sharing, breaking stereotyped gender roles and all this while we had to make sure that it’s informative enough for the masses, so that when we perform it out through nukkad naatak format, we deliver a cause which urges people to read between the lines. The entire process helped me a great deal in transcending the outdated social laws and a stereotypical behavior that we project towards things not out of choice but rather, out of stereotypes. Working on third gender problems and sensitizing the masses to it was one of the causes we picked up. The hypocritical nature regarding gender roles is often seen in our society and keeping this in mind, we brought up many daily-life instances which portray how disparities between man and a woman tend to grow as soon as the question of equality surfaces. Doing all this, at some level, I got to know about my own loopholes and started to bring these issues to dining table conversations back home. To my dismay, my parents obviously couldn’t understand the dynamics of feminism or overhyped concept of masculinity but at least I tried bringing this up in my family and as they say, charity always begins at home, I served the purpose well.

Besides the cause and its subsequent effect, what I loved the most in the entire process was the sheer honesty and humility in the people who kept us glued the entire time without making us feel low at any point of time. Imagine a place where you go and meet a bunch of brand new people in your life and you cannot help but remain in a perpetual state of awe with most of them and in the end, you think about it and say, ‘was it really a happy place that I was in?’. this is exactly the same thing I will continue to cherish and be amazed at how brilliantly we all managed to get our things done, where nobody was abused, verbally or otherwise, nobody cried for wrong reasons and we never practically played the typical sadistic part like the ones they play in dramatics society of Delhi University to get things done! Pheww! All went well.

In the end, I would like to conclude by saying that never in my life have I met so many beaming faces, someone’s who’s ready to help you at any given point of time, and someone who has made peace with human idiocy so they will never judge you,  someone who loves and is a giant throbbing heart, someone who can be super intelligient like a scientist and still look pretty, someone who changes you for good and I got to see them, meet them, be with them, for a good 2 months. Plus, we also worked for a cause. Our Ladyship Puneeta Roy, without whom we all would never have come up with any performance, let alone the scripting part, made us stick together for good and saw in me and all of us, the potential to do a little extra and little better than the rest who couldn’t be a part of this. We became the Change. We contributed in changing the world, in our own tiny ways.With love. With conviction. With Faith

Till next time


-Ritu Bhatt is a Delhi University pass out, a passionate blogger and one of the actors in Sounds of Freedom’s ‘Natya Rasta’ theater group

Dreams and Transformations

Theatre workshops at the Adharshila home under the umbrella of Threads of Humanity.
Tucked away in North Delhi’s Kingsway Camp is the Seva Kutir complex that houses (among other spaces) an observation home for juvenile’s under trial as well as a detoxification centre for juvenile addicts. The complex is as green and clean as it is militarized with high walls, flood lights, barbed wire, broken glass atop the walls and unforgivingly reinforced metal doors that require Herculean strength to budge. It is hard to enter a space like the observation home without preconceived notions about the incarcerated minors who are temporarily staying there. However, the children effortlessly destroy each and every such notion in a matter of minutes.
Avik Roy and I began our ‘Theatre Workshop’ for the children in the observation home on the 4th of September 2014. Our plan was to have a fluid plan. We wanted to gradually get to know some of the boys as well assess how exactly to go about introducing these young accused boys to the world of theatre. My biggest fear while initiating this process was that the boys would probably scoff at a theatre workshop being held in a halfway house where they do not expect to be lodged for more than a few weeks at most. Majority of the boys expect to be out in a matter of days. We decided that fast paced and energetic games would be the best way to grab their attention and luckily we weren’t entirely wrong. With the legendary ‘Dog and the Bone’ we began a relationship that altered our worldview forever. It is difficult to precisely document all that we felt and observed in the daily 2 hours we spent (and continue to spend) with the boys. Instead, it would be easier to describe some of the things we encountered that were radically different from the expectations that we harboured upon entering the observation home.
Most of our expectations of jail are informed by a great deal of popular culture representation that is fed to us on television and film. The reality of Aadharshila is very different. The children are not cooped into cells but instead have large shared dorms along with well maintained sports fields and courtyards. It is of extreme importance that we remember at all times that these children are not convicts but simply accused of crimes. Many of them are no different from the way we were when we were kids. Even though most of them are school dropouts, their levels of awareness are no less than any child exposed to the same media.
The first few days of the workshop were haphazard because the children (and the two of us) remained entirely unsure about what we were doing. The boys were hesitant and were not particularly interested in the introspective aspects of the games. Some of them would stay for the games they enjoyed and then utilize extremely creative excuses to vamoose at the very point something serious or sombre was being discussed. By day 4 our heads began to droop, two boys broke into a fight and things started were looking stagnant and progress seemed almost impossible. We then realized that we needed to spice things up and start getting the kids to get a sense of acting, character, narrative arc and other simple concepts of theatre. We finally settled on the most trusted group, who showed an initiative to be a part of this process. Some started to get excited at the prospect of performing a play.
We would have preferred if the play had been scripted and written by the children based on their own stories. We had gotten them to share, draw and write about themselves but it remained impossible to get them to create a fiction work, and so we had to take the scripting upon ourselves. The boys thoroughly enjoyed portraying the story of a poor boy who falls into drug addiction and subsequent petty crime which lands him in jail. The performance was cathartic in a way we least expected. The boys had their fellow inmates roaring with laughter and completely immersed in the play. They cheered the boys playing drug addicts but suddenly became pensive and quiet when our young protagonist spoke about his dreams and aspirations. The play ended with each boy telling the audience their name, and what they will be when they return to the world outside.
There has been so much injustice, anger, resentment and frustration that these boys are often lost about how to channelize their emotions. They blame the system, they blame poverty and often just simply do not want to come to terms with their own faults. Our aim was to instill hope and a sense of achievement that could help these teenagers break out of the trap of blaming circumstances and taking control of their own destiny, even if against the odds. It was not just the play, but the entire experience of getting to know these boys that was transformative for all of us involved.
- Shaman Marya is a Law Fac graduate, deeply interested in film making, who has been associated with Yuva Ekta earlier during the 2008 Summer Programme and is now a volunteer with us.

Sweet Reminiscence


Glasgow Diaries – Rijul Kataria

What does it take to not forget something? Has it ever happened to you, that when you return from somewhere you have a difficult time adjusting at home? Withdrawal symptoms (as close as it could get) a plenty and you keep asking for more of the same experience. The only thing you think about for sometime is when, where and how you will get an opportunity to go back to the same place and experience something completely new? The true meaning of the term unforgettable is learnt. When you narrate stories of your journey, your mind leaves you gasping for more. Nostalgia, happiness, a weird feeling in the stomach, everything that makes you believe that this journey was special.
I don’t exactly remember when the process started and I certainly know it hasn’t ended. Once upon a time when we only thought we would be in Glasgow one day is now a time, existing, flowing, real and lived. We weren’t tourists (only), our intent was clear. That one hour in which we get to perform our play made the trip of ten days possible. ‘Shoonya se shikhar tak’ is therefore a landmark in my life. The intense training, workshops and preparations for this production has been growing experience. As an actor and as an individual, I have unmasked a lot within me. Shoonya se shikhar tak has not only made me realise the power of my dreams, but also my abilities to work on them. I can proudly say this intensity has made me lighter and stronger at the same time. The magical part is that i dont even know when this process started. It just seems smooth now that I look back on all these memories with fondness.
All of this however wasn’t limited to the one hour in the rotunda. But I think that this growth took a different course from there. Now that I think about it, I can’t find any words to describe my feelings the first time I stepped on the cushioned stage of the rotunda. The first time I ever tested my voice inside that dome, the first time I walked, crossed from one side to the other. Each movement of my body made me want to get that emotion more and more and made me never want to end this experience. And that one hour, when all our rehearsal time, our practise came to its actual test, the hour that made it all possible was an hour that I want to keep reliving. That one hour in which I was vulnerable, both emotionally and physically, on stage and especially off it is the hour I crave. As if that’s the kind of reality I want to keep living. Shoonya se shikhar tak has reached its first shikhar. I think it is time we take it forward, continue to work with ourselves and with this experience and make this journey limitless.
Its not so much about living a dream. It doesn’t hit you always that what you thought of once upon a time, is a reality you’re living. Its after you’re back, trying to adjust with your life that you realise that you just lived what you yearned for. I want to live it again. And keep living it.
For all this and more I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to everyone concerned and everyone who made this possible.
“Mere sapnon ka Yeh andaaz hai, ki har rang mein shaksiyat kuch khaas hai.
Mai kehta hoon Bohot ji li zindagi, Woh kehta ki abhi aur Jine ke aas hai.”

Rijul is a student of Masters in Sociology at JNU, Delhi. He has been working with Yuva Ekta since 2009 and has been a facilitator for many of our theatre workshops.


A Moment in Time


Glasgow Diaries – Shashank Angiras

Long time ago when I was a kid, I had an experience that could only be described as ‘a moment’. A moment in time that stands out from the manifold experiences that life has to offer – something so powerful that you are forced to jump out of your body and take a look around to admire it. My journey to Glasgow was a collection of these moments strewn across this lovely city.

I remember very vividly taking a walks along the river Clyde, which ran just across the very character-building Euro Hostel, which was our home for those wondrous ten days. One would walk, look at the city, keep conversations, and at the same time try and take in an overwhelming attack on the senses. From the air, to the sounds and sights of the city; everything was new, exciting, and invigorating. But what was the most striking and pleasant were the people and the atmosphere at the Tin Forest Festival. There were so many young theater artists from across the world coming together to share their voice with us.

Meeting, interacting, and sharing voices set the stage, quite literally, for the performances from different parts of the commonwealth. Each country brought shades of their unique culture and theatre tradition to the stage and it was a unique experience that opened my mind not just in terms of the content and thought behind what was being shown, but also how it was presented. Music, song, dance, and movement theatre came as one as two teams took to the stage every evening.

Not to forget in any measure, our own performance. Months of practices and devising scenes were to culminate in this moment. Devising the plot and the performance had presented us with a few obstacles, chiefly to deal with performing in front of a foreign audience which was not familiar with the language and cultural context in which the play was set. Fortunately, our doubts were laid to rest by the overwhelmingly warm response that we received for our performance. It was humbling to find that theatre persons from various countries appreciate what we had to offer. I was also particularly ecstatic to know that the audience understood and welcomed our intent of using theatre as a tool to speak of social issues.

Glasgow is an extremely lovely city. It was an absolute pleasure to just be able to be there and be acted upon by not just the city, its culture and music; but also by its warm and open people and the artists and organisers of the Tin Forest Festival. I personally would like to thank all of the people who made this journey possible – anybody who contributed, our generous benefactors, thank you. But a huge thank you to the Yuva Ekta Foundation for this experience amongst countless others that have helped me grow.

I take back a lot of memories to Delhi. I take back a lot of voices. I take back a lot of people. I take back knowledge and experience. I brought Glasgow back as a souvenir to Delhi.

Shashank is a student of Master’s in English and also plays drums for a few Delhi based bands. He has been working as a facilitator with the Yuva Ekta Foundation since 2010 and he loves British Comedy.


Experience of a Lifetime


Glasgow Diaries – Pankaj Gupta
This was my second trip abroad but first to the  UK. I never thought I will get chance to travel  UK and perform in an international youth theatre festival. The festival took place in Glasgow where I got the  chance to meet many friends from across the world. I also participated in different workshops with them and learnt new things about performance. We watched many plays and live performances and it was a very new experience for me. We were representing India at the Tin Forest International Youth Theatre Festival Glasgow and it was a great feeling.

On this trip I also got the chance to see London, this is my personal experience that by traveling we learn a lot,and on this trip I also learnt a lot which will help me in my work in future. I really want to thank all the people who supported Yuva Ekta Foundation for this trip. Thank you so much!

Pankaj is an ex Salaam Baalak Trust student. After having learnt theatre at the trust, with different teachers as well as the Yuva Ekta workshops, he is now a full time actor at Kingdom of Dreams, Gurgaon.