Sapan Saran Interview
Adversity often brings out the best in people. And when it's a close-knit family like Mumbai's theatre community, it's inspiring but not surprising to see the way many have stepped up to help each other during this pandemic. Theatre Dost -a group of young theatre practitioners brought together by theatre director Sunil Shanbag and writer-director Sapan Saran - is not only raising funds but also coordinating a volunteer force to help theatrefolk whose income has been decimated by the deadly virus and the ensuing lockdowns in a variety of ways.

 By Priya Pathiyan

In less than two weeks, they have managed to pool resources and put together various teams to form a dedicated resource centre for the community. For example, doctors who will offer their services, the supply of prescription medicines, meals and rations to those who need them, besides a lot of timely COVID-related information. Theatre Dost emphasises a one-to-one approach. "We felt it wasn't enough to just provide numbers, even though verified. We actually help make the connections and get the required results," explains Saran, who has been working on this tirelessly.

She describes the way the seeds of the idea for Theatre Dost were first sown."We were feeling extremely emotional and feeling so helpless about everything. The anxiety after watching the news, hearing about friends and relativesdying ... we were all collectively going through such a crisis. That's when a few of us thought that we should try and help in whatever little way we can."

Theatre Dost has been making concerted efforts to spread the word about their existence as a support group for those belonging to the world of theatre in more than eight different languages, getting translators, designers, sound technicians etc to collaborate and create messaging that can be understood by the maximum number of people.

They are aware of the need to build an outreach programme that connects with people from different language theatres, who have been languishing without a regular income for the last several months. She says, "Not everyone can access social media or has the language skills or technology to ask for help when they need it. We contacted several associations, as well as reached out via other theatre colleagues, who had the numbers of backstage technicians, etc to check how they were faring and whether they needed help."

Several theatre people have given generously and Theatre Dost has associated with the Santokba Premkorba Charitable Trust (run by a fellow theatre person's family), to accept donations and accelerate their outreach activities, which will benefit people from all parts of the Mumbai theatre universe. For example, immediate relief has been forthcoming in the form of rations for about 200 members of the Rangmanch Kamgar Sangh. Some of them have really been in distress, without any earnings for almost two years and Theatre Dost's support has been welcome.Saran shares the moving example of an elderly theatre clerk, who was forgoing his own medication so that his family could buy the basic necessities.

For him and others from the fraternity, Theatre Dost is certainly the friend in need they so sorely need.

*Priya Pathiyan is an independent lifestyle journalist

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