The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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On centrestage, kids with a zest to be

The list of bare necessities to survive — food, water and shelter — might be short, but that’s not all a child needs to live. To dream is important, and to have happy memories is an essential part of growing up. It is towards this end that SOS Children’s Villages of India (CVI) launched the Nurturing Tomorrow programme last year. The aim was to give the young orphans living in these centres a chance to pursue their artistic talents.

Last year, the project began with an art workshop in SOS CVI’s Pune home, where a few prominent painters taught the inmates the basic techniques and the joys of art. Building on its success, the NGO turned to theatre this year, with a series of workshops in four cities, kicking off in Calcutta.

The two-day theatre workshop, on Monday and Tuesday, was conducted by Clowns ‘R’ Us, a group of stage veterans from Mumbai. The ones on centrestage were America-born Karla Singh, actress, dancer, choreographer and former tutor of Shiamak Davar, and producer of Hinglish plays Ashvin Gidwani.

The guest appearance was by Bollywood, stage and television actor Vijoo Khote, famous for his role of Kalia in Sholay, amongst many others.

There were around 50 kids, aged between seven and 12, learning about mime, body movement, like different styles of walking (in water or on hot surfaces), animal sounds and emotions, like laughing and crying. The workshop will now travel to Delhi, Bhopal and Bangalore SOS CVIs. The guest stars, however, will be different in each city, with Bharat Dabolkar and Smita Jayakar already roped in.

Around 15 to 20 children will be selected from the four sessions, to act in the Clowns ‘R’ Us production Punch-a-Tantra, which will travel around the country. Once the aspiring actors are chosen, at the end of the three-week-long exercise, they will be taken to Mumbai for rehearsals in the big league.

“I had never done something like this before, so I had no idea what to expect. But it was absolutely wonderful,” smiled Singh, in-between talking to the children in sign language, broken Hindi and English, while they prattled on in non-stop Bengali. “They’re like sponges, soaking everything up enthusiastically and energetically, never wanting to stop. But what I like most is their affection. They’re very loving. I will miss them.”

While the kids danced and sang to their hearts’ content, the adults, too, seemed to enjoy themselves. “The last time I acted in Punch-a-Tantra, I was the villain, and I had to put up with a lot of hitting from children. This time, I said I didn’t want to take part in the play, but I am happy to help with the little ones. It’s always good to teach them,” said Khote.

Gidwani added: “They’re so eager to learn, which is wonderful, since it is often lacking among more affluent kids.”

Last year’s young artists maintain contact with their tutors, who now act as their mentors. SOS CVI hopes to turn this into a career opportunity for the more talented young actors, looking for a brighter future.

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