Free Spirit

Free Spirit

As India celebrates 66 years of Independence,two city artists speak of the spaces that evoke a sense of freedom in them

Swanand Kirkire

Swanand Kirkire walks into Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai with the ease of an ex-student in a college canteen. It is here that the Indore-born Kirkire and his compatriots from Delhi’s National School of Drama — including actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui — felt at home.

To Kirkire,theatre is truth. The direct interaction between humans here leaves no room for being fake,something that Kirkire relishes. “It allows me to fail. My freedom comes from the fact that I get to try without the fear of failing,” he says. This is what he also associates with the term “independence”.

Despite having parents who are trained classical musicians,Kirkire is a self-taught singer. “I didn’t like the classical music space because of aspects such as the guru-shishya tradition,” he says.


A quest to find a sounding board ended when Kirkire discovered his love for the stage in college. “It’s more democratic. I was once in a group where a bank manager and a peon acted together,and the peon got a meatier role,” he says. “This coming together of age,morality,class and caste that gets people to react and discuss the subject makes theatre a great leveller,” he adds.

Shilpa chavan

The crumbling structure rises from behind the trees. The now-defunct Shakti Mills in Mahalaxmi,Mumbai,is a nearly forgotten landmark in the teeming metropolis. It is,at best,reminiscent of the closure of mills that rendered thousands of city’s textile mill workers jobless.

For accessory designer Shilpa Chavan,however,the association extends beyond the obvious to encompass what textile mills have contributed to the country — the role they played in India’s struggle for Independence. “Independence has to be viewed from a historical perspective. To me,the term independence translates into self-sufficiency which was propagated as part of the Swadeshi movement during the freedom struggle. There’s a strong need for us to be self-sufficient even today and the mills remind us of that legacy,” she says.

Chavan takes pride in events such as the 1942 strike by mill workers in Ahmedabad. “On August 9,1942,as many as 1.25 lakh textile mill workers brought Ahmedabad to a halt by going on a strike for more than three months. The strike — among the first cries for Independence — was a turning point of sorts,” she says,adding that even today,next to agriculture,it’s the textile sector that constitutes the largest workforce in the country.