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Being the change: A sound start

Last year, with their first public production, “Duniya Sabki”, Aagaaz Theatre Trust explored the idea of freedom and independence, rights and possession. The actors were children from the Nizamuddin Basti, members of a theatre repertory that has, also, given them a kind of creative freedom of their own. Now, as they get ready for their upcoming play, “Raavan Aaya”, the young actors are ready to take on “address the broader problems of class-structure and hierarchical divisions”. Founded by Sanyukta Saha, Aagaaz registered in 2015 as an independent community arts organisation under the Trusts Act, and has, in this short span, grown in both depth and ambit, exploring ideas of inclusivity, independence, creativity, critical thinking and integrity. This Independence Day, the journey Aagaaz has taken, and the will with which it has carved out its own space, becomes especially important, as does the journey of its founder.



For Saha, the idea of Aagaaz began when her stint with the Aga Khan Foundation ended. At the Foundation, Saha first met the community at Nizamuddin basti, first working as the Arts Education Program Co-ordinator, and later, also facilitating the Theatre and Visual Arts Programme. For the latter, Saha worked with really young children and their mothers, adolescents and young adults, all using theatre. When it was time for the Foundation to stop their Theatre and Visual Arts programme, Saha realised that she wasn’t ready to stop herself. “For me, this work I had been doing with the community had become extremely important, and I knew that I would be continuing it on my own, with or without support”.

Of course, her own continued involvement in theatre and communities had spurred Saha on, and given her a part of the experience needed for both the Foundation’s work, and then Aagaaz. “I’d begun working with Pandies theatre in college. While there was a lot of acting, directing etc. involved, a lot of the work was with communities.”

With the seed of Aagaaz already planted in her mind, Saha fortuitously stumbled upon UnLtd Delhi, an organisation that supports early stage social entrepreneurs. “I applied for a fellowship, and the selection process itself did a lot for me. This place became the first one that pushed me to start looking at numbers and the practicality of what I was taking on.”

Saha ended up getting the fellowship she had applied for.Slowly, the initiative began to take shape, and in its first stage, emerged as a theatre and education repertory. “The group would create productions and we’d take them to educational institutions. That’s how we’d generate revenue. We’d also developed a three-year long intensive drama programme for the kids and young adults who’d join the repertory.” Saha adds that while the work the repertory does would come from a certain political and social consciousness, it is also important that it concentrated on the art and skill of theatre itself.

Since then, Aagaaz has continued to evolve. “It’s no longer just about theatre and education, but is really becoming a space for learning, critical dialogue and thought, all of them anchored at some level to the arts,” says Saha. Over the years, not only has the number of members, kids and young adults of all ages from the Nizamuddin basti, grown, but so has the number of volunteers, interns and support. As more people get on board, each brings a new opportunity and direction. Now, Aagaaz also runs a one on one mentorship programme, with 19 members on board, their ages ranging from 19 to 42. “The idea is to break the binary between teacher and student, so that both can learn together.” Saha also hopes that some of the people on board will also be able to give Aagaaz its future leadership. “For example, Devika, a young gap student who started interning with us last year really helped give shape to the mentorship programme.”

Financially sustaining the initiative has perhaps been one of Saha’s biggest challenges. “All my savings went on Aagaaz, and I had to take up another full time job last November. Right now, I am doing behavioural consultancy training. Basically, I have two full time jobs, and work 16 hours a day. Aagaaz has also picked up a momentum of its own, and I’m running to just keep up with everything”, she says.

Reluctant to seek big funding, which she fears might steer Aagaaz into directions she doesn’t want it to take, Saha has set up something she calls “Friends of Aagaaz”, an initiative that seeks small funding from supporters. “As of now, we take a completely bottoms up approach. I’ll also begin to apply for small grants now.” The support she does have has borne fruit, and this week, Aagaaz finds a permanent space of its own, which it will be sharing with Third Space Collective. “Now, with this space of our own, we hope to have what can become a learning centre for us.”

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Printable version | Mar 9, 2021 10:28:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Being-the-change-A-sound-start/article14569736.ece

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