Mumbai: 15 Indian artists to perform at clown festival

Dec 07, 2018, 09:36 IST | Snigdha Hasan

Trained by international master clowns, 15 artistes from across India will perform at aclown festival in Mumbai, and return to their cities to spread cheer among the lesser fortunate

Mumbai: 15 Indian artists to perform at clown festival
Rupesh Tillu (centre) with his team of artistes from Pune, including Ankita Nikrad (second from left)

It's tough to put a number on how art can touch one's life. It could be a mellifluous beginning to the day, setting you in the mood to sail through the rest of it. It can be therapeutic when you decide to work on that unfinished canvas. And when sustained over a period of time, engaging with the arts can be empowering.

Rupesh Tillu has seen the trajectory unfold in his work with the children of sex workers in Kamathipura. A part of Clowns Without Borders Sweden (CWB-SE), a non-profit organisation that takes performances to those living in adverse conditions the world over, the actor-director first staged an act for the kids in 2012.

Swedish director Susie Wimmer (seated) with her Mumbai team
Swedish director Susie Wimmer (seated) with her Mumbai team

Thrilled, they requested for an encore, and when the team returned with another performance, they asked if their mothers could watch it, too. The following year, the partner NGO requested the team to teach clowning skills to the kids, and this time, the mothers were in the audience while the children performed. Earlier this year, six of these young girls were chosen to perform at a festival in Poland, followed by a tour in Sweden.

"Kids from these backgrounds carry a lot of rage within. But clowning and humour have such power that you find the strength to fight [your circumstances] without getting angry. And when you learn to laugh at yourself, nobody can laugh at you," says Tillu. Seeing the success of the Kamathipura project, he decided to take the art of clowning to other cities in India. The result is the month-long Laughter Per Kilometre project, a collaboration between CWB-SE and Tillu's Red Nose Entertainment.

Rehearsal in progress at the Matheran residency
Rehearsal in progress at the Matheran residency

The project will pan out in four stages, the first of which is underway in Matheran, where five trios of artistes selected from Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai, have been brought together for a 20-day residency. Two master clowns (trained in physical theatre, clowning or mime, with decades of experience) from Sweden, one each from France and Germany, and Tillu are heading the trios to direct five performances, which will be staged at the Internal Clown Festival of India in Mumbai. The festival will feature expert talks on clowning, while in the first half of the second day, underprivileged children from Versova will be invited to watch the show.

"Some of these artistes have limited or no background in clowning and fall in the age group of 22 to 45 years. The idea was to have a diverse group," explains Tillu. Theatre artiste Ankita Nikrad, who is part of Tillu's Pune team, adds, "Most of us don't know each other, nor are we familiar with the languages others speak. But that isn't a barrier. The language of clowning binds us." The residency begins with a common session led by one of the directors. It is followed by a mime class, after which the group breaks into their respective teams to work on their acts.

The Laughter Per Kilometre team
The Laughter Per Kilometre team

While the team from Delhi will bring together clowning and music in their performance, the Chennai artistes will put up a clown war against mosquitoes. Tillu's team will present a clown perspective on Kalidas's Shakuntala. "Every director has their own approach. We focussed on working together as an ensemble first and once that happened, the playfulness just came. Because naturally, we are all playful. It's the societal conditions that make us serious people," he shares.

Stage three of the project involves the artistes returning to their respective cities to perform with an array of NGOs in a period of seven days. For the final stage, Tillu with his colleague Vijay Sharma will travel to these cities to conduct evaluation workshops and seminars to chart out a path for bringing more kids under the fold of the initiative — something that Nikrad is most excited about. "These 20 days have really helped us hone our acts. We don't want to perform at a grand level, but we want to keep reaching more people through frequent performances," she says.
"Initiatives such as these should run on their own," affirms Tillu. "The idea of making India laugh needs to go on forever."

On December 8 and 9, 4 pm to 10 pm AT Harkat Studios, Andheri West.
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