A play based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi, to mark his 150th birth anniversary, was staged at Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, on October 2. The performers were special — battling autism, learning disability, intellectual disability and cerebral palsy.
“The play is an example of inclusion. There are actors with various needs as well as from economically weaker sections of society working with a backstage team of young theatre enthusiasts, a design and direction team of theatre professionals as well as parents and special educators,” says Prerna Gupta, co-founder of The Coloured Zebra (TCZ), a social impact enterprise for children and young adults with special needs, who created the 40 minute musical.
Therapy Through Theatre is an amalgamation of occupational therapy, speech therapy and behaviour modification, where theatre is used as a methodology to train these individuals on basic life-skills, communication, expressiveness and social skills. The play, Gandhi, is an ideal example of what happens when special actors come on stage.
The plot traces the journey of Barrister Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to Mahatma Gandhi, as the struggle for Independence unfolds around him. “We have touched upon various movements, including the Champaran Satyagraha, the Non-Cooperation movement and the Dandi March,” says Gupta.
The play features three Gandhis. “The first one is the barrister, played by Rahul Chandel, then there is the assertive man depicted by Devesh Bhalla, who evolves into the loving and caring Bapu, essayed by Nagardeep,” says Gupta. The play has been performed at India International Center, Delhi, to critical acclaim. There are plans to travel with it to Mumbai.
Prabhjot Singh, a scriptwriter, stage actor and creative director, says, “The dedication, determination and hard work of the special-needs actors is commendable. They perform each act, whether a scene with long dialogues or just a small protest scene, with utmost sincerity.” The team came together and worked for eight months to put up the show.
Singh adds that it takes six months to build the understanding of theatre, acting and performance among the special needs actors. “We train them using various theatrical activities to get their bodies on beat, enhance their expressive communication skills, their body posture, fine and gross motor skills, speech and language,” he says, “This works like a therapy for these individuals and empowers them to lead a confident life.”
Gupta says that theatre gives the special actors a sense of belonging and acceptance by the society. She adds that the lay holds a message for a world rife with violence, discrimination, communalism and other evils. “We need to fight the world with the philosophy of Gandhi.”