Interview
 
Ramanjit Kaur Interview
Ramanjit Kaur is an International award-winning theatre and film actor, director, National Vice President of the Arts Leadership Council, Women Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WICCI), and founder of The Creative Arts Academy. She is known internationally for creating innovative workshops interweaving Theatre and Life skills and is renowned for her work for Women's Empowerment.


 By Parul Rana


"My journey has been a little unusual in the sense that I started my professional career journey while I was in school," she recalls. "My guru Padmashri Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry found me in school and since 1986 I have been working with her. So it's been quite a few years of working with her and then of course I carried on with my graduation in fine arts, music, dance, and English literature. I did my graduation in instrumental music and kathak and I am a gold medalist in the sitar. So, while I was still in college, my international journey started. We started traveling all over the world and I was performing there and got the exposure. Then I got the Charles Wallace Trust Award in 2003, so through that, I studied at the London School of Speech and Drama, Birmingham School of Speech and Drama, Central School of Speech and Drama, UK."

In France, she worked with Ariane Mnouchkine at Theatre du Soleil and in Italy, with Firenza Guidi. She has performed at Festivals in India and worldwide, including UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Dubai, Pakistan, Australia, Uzbekistan, and Sri Lanka. She founded The Creative Arts in Kolkata in 2002.

"In 1996, I realized that there was very little in terms of formalized theatre training. A lot of group theatre work goes on but when it comes to formalized systematic training in theatre for children and adults, there are very few organizations that do that and there is a vacant space and a vacuum in terms of formalized training in theatre. So I started The Creative Arts in 2002.

"The Natya Shastra which is one of the oldest documents of theatre from which the world takes inspiration was written here. It was at that time that a lot of inputs and formalized theory were written and here we are studying Stanislavsky, rather than Natya Shastra. So I would say these were the post-colonial effects that our country is still facing. To take the best out of the culture that was uprooted and taken away from us and the pride of delving in it was also taken away from us that we are still suffering from post-colonization. Our pride, our culture, and our own mother tongue, language, the training system that we had, we had some of the best universities and best education systems in India. How much do we know about Indian culture while studying in school? All the Indian authors, who have given us such rich literature, we don't know about them. Tagore has been read by very few of us. Maybe just one poem in school 'Where the mind is without fear', but we have so much more to study about him and others. So it's not taught to us even 75 years later. The intervention that should have happened in the basic education system post-colonization has not happened.

"So I find that as the main reason for not delving deep into the Indian art education system and borrowing it from the west. I think we should make every effort to do so because we have a very rich culture, if you look at the folk forms, they are themselves so highly classified. How many countries can boast of that? There are multiple classical dance forms we have in India. If all these are taught to children who want to pursue theatre which they are taught but on a periphery manner. So if we dive into those rich cultural forms of body and mind, our theatre would be something else."


Recently, The Creative Arts Academy organized a theatre festival for children and youth. The theme for 'Dramebaazi - International Arts Festival for the Young' 2021 was ACE - Accept Change Express. Curated by Ramanjit Kaur, and Shaili Sathyu, this year the 4th Edition of the Festival was held Online.

"Last year, The Creative Arts became The Creative Arts Academy, '' she explains, "and now we have six departments in the institute which consist of dance, music, fine arts, theatre, writing department, communication and arts management. So it has become a full-fledged arts academy

'Dramebaazi' was conceptualized in 2018, as a children's theatre carnival but when we started doing it we realized it's more of a festival because we had all kinds of art forms and workshops and performances so lots were happening. For the first two years, we had a national presence, since last year in July, we went online, and we were the first youth festival that went online. We had 28 events in seven countries. This year we had more than 28 events in about 9-10 countries represented in the festival. This for us was to make us reach out to the international audience and the name has been changed to 'Dramebaazi International Arts Festival For The Young'; it's no more just for children because we are catering to the youth community from 5-30 years. We had youth communities from the UK, Australia, Nigeria, India, Thailand, USA, Sri Lanka, and Ireland."

Talking about how theatre has merged with the online medium and what her experience has been like with it, she says, "No one can deny the feel, the smell, the energy that you feel and the beauty of human presence when it comes to performing arts. It is amazing, because it is like the invisible thread that binds the performance and the audience. Having said that, performances and even workshops have transcended to the screen and make you feel the palatable energy. Of course, you can't feel the touch, or smell, or the feeling of shared space is not there but the events that were brought last year or this year, I would say, the way we have used the screen, and how the actors have showcased their stories and performances, in different ways, and the way the media was used, it was quite outstanding. The creative arts academy's own kids had campfire tales, so there were stories told within their tents, when you see these children performing, you kind of feel you have entered their tent and you feel their stories. So the kind of activities and performances created in the fest were to reach out to the audience and not to make you feel, 'oh it didn't work out'. Of course, wishing for more is always there, but everyone thoroughly enjoyed what was happening on the screen because of how it was curated."

She went on to create an All-Women Theatre troupe, which has received National Awards and also travels internationally. Her productions like DICE OF DESIRE (2019), BEYOND BORDERS (2017), BAAWRE MAN KE SAPNE (2012), and others deal with community and gender-sensitive issues, have won several awards and have toured globally.

"This women group came to me and they wanted to start theatre, some of their children were already doing theatre and I wasn't sure of how the journey would go, but it has continued for nine years. What has kept us going is the hunger within these women who come from so-called 'privileged' backgrounds but I would say the privileged class is actually the unprivileged class because they do not have a voice. Higher you go in the class you have to wear your red lipstick and say everything is fine. You cannot say that my husband beats me, or there is a dowry problem or he is womanizing or there is an emotional turmoil or a financial problem. So be it any pain, you cannot name it, you cannot talk about it even to your best friend because you have to show that you are perfect, your family is perfect. Whereas none of it is perfect in any family. So the birth of this theatre group took place from hunger for delving into an art form that could give them an identity, a voice, and can become a platform for social change for the entire community. We have performed in national theatre festivals, the National School of Drama festival and then at the international theatre Olympiad. We were invited to Sri Lanka by SAARC and ICCR. They have traveled to places that they had never imagined they would have as performers. The Governor of West Bengal said that 'this is the best play' I have ever seen when he saw BEYOND BORDERS. So those are big moments in their lives that they have had. In fact, when we got the Laadli National Award for Gender Sensitization, Naseeruddin Shah, Javed Akhtar, and Shabana Azmi, Govind Nihalani had come to watch the group, and the group members were all emotional and said, "We pay tickets to watch them and today they are sitting and watching us." So it was quite a turnaround and it has been a very rigorous journey because the way I have treated them is like any other professional theatre. When we are working on a production, we start at 7.30 am and they go back at 7.30 pm, how they manage their family and children is another story in itself. The group is paving the way not only in Kolkata but also in India and internationally. I tell them that if you continue this for another 10 years, you will be writing history."

*Parul Rana is a theatre enthusiast and movie buff.




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