Different Art Centre at Magic Planet in Thiruvananthapuram to showcase talents of the differently-abled

The centre hones their talents and gives them a space to perform

October 18, 2019 05:30 pm | Updated 05:30 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Gopinath Muthukad with students, their parents and staff members of Different Art Centre at Magic Planet in Thiruvananthapuram

Gopinath Muthukad with students, their parents and staff members of Different Art Centre at Magic Planet in Thiruvananthapuram

“He is having the best time of his life,” says Geetha Amarnath, watching her son Vishnu Amarnath’s graceful Bharatanatyam performance. “Vishnu fell in love with dance on seeing his elder sister perform. Even though we did send him to a dance school, his guru was averse to him performing on stage as he has Down’s Syndrome. But one of his teachers in school encouraged him and since then, his life has revolved around dance and he is now a postgraduate in Bharatnatyam,” she explains. Jaleo Mahal, where Vishnu performs, is a space for differently-abled dancers at Magic Planet, Kazhakkoottam.

Next to this venue is Beethoven Bungalow, modelled after a traditional naalukettu , where a group of singers, all of them differently-abled, is rehearsing a song. Mentally-challenged Rahul KG leads the session under the watchful eyes of his father, GP Kumar. “He has calmed down a lot and listens to me as well,” Kumar says.

The landscaped compound also has a majestic, brick-red-coloured India Fort, inspired by Red Fort, a stage for the special children to present theatre. Below the canopy of a tamarind tree is Angelo’s Artree and an underground gallery, Angelo’s Arcade, to exhibit their paintings and craft. The scenic Camille Cascade, with waterfall, rocks and greenery, is for those who want to try their hand at filmmaking, acting, cinematography and editing. Wonder Wings, a platform for aspiring magicians, is getting ready.

These are the different performance spaces of Different Art Centre (DAC) on Magic Planet’s four-plus-acre campus. In a week or so, DAC will officially open its doors to programmes by differently-abled artistes at Magic Planet, the magic-themed park run by Gopinath Muthukad’s Academy of Magical Sciences (Magic Academy). DAC has been launched in collaboration with Kerala Social Security Mission (KSSM).

“The plan is to bring the differently-abled into the mainstream by giving them an opportunity to showcase their talent,” says Muthukad, executive director of Magic Academy. As of now, 100 students, aged 14 and above will be enrolled in DAC. Fifty-five students with different kinds of challenges are already part of DAC. “Mentally-challenged students, those with autism or Down’s Syndrome and speech- and hearing-challenged persons and those with cerebral palsy are on the rolls,” he adds.

Power of magic

The catalyst for DAC was the success of MPower, a troupe launched by Magic Academy with 10 differently-abled magicians in 2017. They were the brand ambassadors of KSSM’s Anuyatra campaign, a programme to support and empower “special” children. “MPower team performs every day at the Magic Planet. They have completed 1,000 stages, thus entering the India Book of Records. It is incredible that they have not made a single mistake during the 40-minute show, whereas I have made several over these years,” says Muthukad.

He points out that the art of magic has transformed their lives beyond expectations. An evaluation on the impact of the programme on these magicians, done by Child Development Centre (CDC), Government of Kerala, was an eye-opener. “The CDS report said that the programme had brought about positive changes in their personality. The reason for this is the appreciation and recognition they get from the audience. Gradually, they’ve become independent. Their self-esteem has improved because they now earn for their families. We give them a fixed monthly salary and take care of their food and, in some case, accommodation too,” he adds.

DAC, he says, is the next step in reaching out to a section of the society who are otherwise kept indoors by their families for fear of ridicule or embarrassment. The batch was chosen after screenings to identify the talent in each of them. “Once the discipline was chosen, we started the training and now we are getting them ready for the stage,” Muthukad says. Those selected are given a monthly stipend of ₹5,000 as well.

The highlight of the stages, constructed under the supervision of Manoj Ottappalam, is a building modelled on the structure of an aeroplane, named Different Thought Centre; a space for parents and guardians of differently-abled children. “This will be a training and guidance corner where parents will learn how to deal with their differently-abled child,” Muthukad adds.

The teachers admit that the training sessions are extremely challenging. “At times, it is difficult to manage them, especially the hyperactive ones. So, before the class begins we play music and make them dance to their heart’s content. After some time, they settle down and will listen to what we teach,” says Divya Krishnan, who teaches dance.

Sanal PK, who leads the art classes, points out that it is important to keep them engaged. Sanal, speech- and hearing-challenged himself, explains through his interpreter that most of the 14 students in the batch are good artists even though they have had no training till now. “They will reproduce on paper anything they see around them. But if I give them a topic and ask them to work around it, that becomes difficult,” says Sanal, introducing Abhishek S, who is good at making portraits.

In addition to performers from the city, DAC has artistes from other districts are well. Prameela and her son, Yuvaraj, have come all the way from Angadippuram in Malappuram district. “He loves to dance and he has become independent after coming here,” she adds.

As the curtain goes up on DAC, Yuvaraj and his batchmates are all set to mesmerise the visitors to Magic Planet. The shows at DAC are not ticketed.

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