| Sushanta Dutta (right) at the drama workshop for Uttarayan’s members. Picture by Aranya Sen
The youngest is four years old, the oldest, over 30. They bond together and treat each other as equals, laughing, talking and playing games. But the fun starts when the acting hour begins. While some express anger, authority, sadness, happiness, the rest join in as an active audience. They participate together, playing their assigned roles eagerly.
The drama workshop for the mentally-handicapped students of Uttarayan is a means of expressing emotions that is not always possible in real life.
A few are autistic, some are slow learners, others are retarded, but when it comes to acting, singing and dancing, it’s the energy and enthusiasm that rush to the fore. A couple of hours of joy a week is what Sushanta Dutta, an actor with Nandikar, brings into their lives.
“I have been coming here about two or three times a week, for the past two years. And I can see the change. It gives them confidence, performing with their friends here. It encourages them to open up, gradually. Even trying to speak clearly is a big step for them,” he observes.
Ajanta Dasgupta has been the principal of the school (which she refers to as “a club where everyone is a member”), for the past three years. The psychologist explains that not all the children are always well looked after at home.
“It maybe a dirty dress or uncombed hair or broken spectacles, but the action reflects a lack of affection and caring. This makes them even more withdrawn. Often, the only social interaction they have is with their fellow-members here. The group drama workshop enables them to express emotions they can’t at home. This is very important for their development. And they enjoy it,” adds Dasgupta.
This is where Dutta plays a vital part. He has been using theatre as a tool to help brighten up the lives of handicapped and under-privileged children and find them a means of expression. His last project, in 1998, was with disabled youngsters from a school called Korak, in Behala. Dutta taught and guided them through the workshops for a few months, which finally ended in a play, Shik-hita Bikalanga, staged at Sisir Mancha. His next plan is to work with a group of street children.
“Theatre in education has always been an important aim of Nandikar, and I have learnt to extend my help and skill to those who need it, through the group. Besides, I like working with handicapped individuals. It gives me purpose and a sense of satisfaction that is difficult to describe,” says the 28-year-old.
“In fact, the group Rangroop, under the aegis of Nandikar, is doing a play on the trials and travails of handicapped people. Entitled Khuje Nao, it is the Bengali translation of Find Me. We want to highlight their problems in our society. They deserve our respect.”