Dropouts practise Manbhum chhau at the Free Legal Aid Committee hall on Thursday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
The comeback story of convicted gangster-turned-film star Nigel Akkara may be an extreme case. But, the performing arts can often prove to be a panacea for troubled youngsters.
Putting faith in this wisdom, Jamshedpur’s theatre activist and social worker Gautam Gope (37), who runs Kaladham in Sonari, is teaching chhau and dramatics to 13 children, all school dropouts between the ages of 11 and 14 who had either been involved in petty crimes or battling some addiction.
The cultural centre operates out of the Free Legal Aid Committee hall near Adarsh Seva Sansthan campus.
“These children are victims of bad breaks. I am hoping that the chhau and theatre classes help them turn their backs on crime forever,” Gope, who started the classes from June 14, said.
He added that Sonari police officer-in-charge Animesh Gupta had been a great help in gathering the children. “He’s a policeman who has been actively involved in counselling wayward children. He believes they all deserve a chance. I am trying to give them that chance,” Gope said.
The children’s troupe showcased its first performance at a street corner on July 9, smiled Gope. “They have come a long way in one month,” he said. “I intend to promote the group through street plays for public awareness, especially those organised by corporate houses,” he added.
Children are no less enthusiastic. Most call Gope “bhaiya” and are serious about learning dramatics from him and Manbhum and Seraikela chhau styles from two other teachers.
A Class VI dropout and former addict, who is now Gope’s student, confessed he was now getting high on theatre.
“Yahan humlog natak seekhte hain aur chhau dance seekhte hain to mann laga rehta hai (We feel good here, so we come),” he said.
The boy who comes everyday for theatre classes adds he might join fornal schooling again. “Bhaiya bhi boltey hain (Gope also says so),” he adds.
“The whole idea of teaching chhau and dramatics to poor and troubled children clicked because I strongly believe that art is a healing therapy. And Animesh Gupta (Sonari OC) too had the same idea of helping these stranded kids. Poor children are vulnerable to hunger, cruelty and temptation. Theycan stray to the path of crime to the point of no return. That’s why I think performing arts can fill their lives with purpose and wean them away from crime,” Gope said.
After a pause, Gope added: “Time will tell how right I am in my belief. This is only a start.”
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