Jana Sanskriti India, in collaboration with Graeae, UK, and theatre-maker Tim Wheeler, and British Council announced the theatre titled Wasteland: A Journey, as part of the ongoing India/UK Together, a Season of Culture – a landmark programme that uses art to address, and create awareness for shared global challenges, including inclusion. The performance in Kolkata saw the presence of Minakshi Mishra, Regional Director, ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations), Kolkata, Debanjan Chakrabarti, Director East and Northeast India, British Council, Vinod Pavarala, Professor & UNESCO Chair on Community Media, University of Hyderabad, Dr. Sanjoy Ganguly, Artistic Director, Jana Sanskriti Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed India (CTO India), Anshuman Bhowmick. Cultural Commentator and Theatre Critic, Jadavpur University. Kolkata, Shubhashis Gangopadhyay, Kolkata-based stage director and writer, and Dr. Purabi Roy, retired Professor of Jadavpur University, India.
The performance that premiered on the International Day of Disabled People on 3 December as part of the ninth edition of Jana Sanskriti’s bi-annual Forum Theatre Festival, Muktadhara, aims to use the collaborative theatre production to address questions about equality, diversity, and inclusion for the first time in India. The touring theatre performance enriching disability art has an ensemble of d/deaf, blind, disabled and neuro-divergent artists take centre stage and take us on journey of possibilities, both live and digitally.
The play commemorates the centenary year of TS Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ with Mahabharata and Tagore and is told through many creative styles. The cast comprises a diverse group of 23 artists – beginners and experienced (from the Jana Sanskriti ensemble) – between the ages of 19 and 50, some of whom are D/deaf, disabled, and neurodivergent.
The production’s narrative revolves around relationships and the futility of life without love and compassion. The three texts that inspired the production demonstrate how struggles lead to conflict and how resolutions are found through emotion rather than logic. The play is inspired by characters such as Sibyl in The Waste Land, who asks Apollo for eternal life but forgets to ask for eternal youth, only to discover that death is what will set her free. In The Mahabharata, Queen Gandhari’s sorrow and guilt, as well as her disagreement with King Dhritarashtra over his blind support for their son Duryodhan’s unethical and unjust actions, are depicted. And with Ranjan in Rabindranath Tagore’s Roktokorobi, whose desire is for change, to make amends, to rectify, even if it means death. It also includes a section of poet Jassim Uddin’s ‘Padmaparer Padabali,’ performed in Mymensingh Geetika style. This section focuses on a journey toward liberation while ignoring material desires.
Debanjan Chakrabarti, Director East and Northeast India, British Council, said, “On India’s 75th year of Independence, India/UK Together: A Season of Culture celebrates the increasing importance and strength of our two countries’ relationship that is poised to shape some of the most important issues of the 21st century, especially for equality and environment. ‘Wasteland: A Journey’ is uniquely relevant to both the issues, as it weaves a complex braid from three literary classics from India and the UK, is collaboratively directed by three cutting edge creative talents from our two countries and staged by an inspiring cast that includes blind, D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent actors.”
Sanjoy Ganguly, Jana Sanskriti Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed India (CTO India), said, “I can see the people having disability are the oppressed of the oppressed inspiring us to redefine the oppression. But the fact is theatre is an art of creating connection, a space of a non-dual nature. Theatre has the power to create a community which is inclusive and human.’”
Jenny Sealey MBE: Artistic Director of Graeae, London, UK, said, “This marks the first tentative steps towards creating inclusive theatre. Everyone involved believes that the arts and access are a human right and for us the best way to demonstrate this is through theatre. The journey has started, and for many of the team, this is their theatre debut, but we hope they will all continue forever more.”
Tim Wheeler Theatre maker, arts consultant, and co-founder of Mind the Gap theatre company, Bradford, UK, said, “D/deaf, disabled and Neurodivergent people know about obstacles and barriers. We often find ourselves spoken for, spoken over, and spoken against. Through theatre, we can learn to speak and act for ourselves. It is wonderful to have allies like Jana Sanskriti and the British Council India to help amplify our voices to build a fairer, more inclusive society.”