Playwright Manjul Bhardwaj’s powerful new play Drop by Drop:Water

Playwright Manjul Bhardwaj’s powerful new play Drop by Drop:Water which not only celebrates water’s life-sustaining virtue but also strongly opposes its privatization is set to tour Europe.

By Adab Nawaz

The need to save water was never in doubt. But eyebrows were raised when multinationals pounced on water, one of the most important bounties of nature, to privatize it. While the likes of feisty activist Medha Patkar fights a losing battle against alleged infringement of rights of the poor on resources like water, the debate rages, including in the world of theatre. Now city-based playwright Manjul Bhardwaj’s powerful new play Drop by Drop:Water which not only celebrates water’s life-sustaining virtue but also strongly opposes its privatization is set to tour Europe. While the trip is sponsored by several agencies like UNESCO and UNICEF, the shows are noncommercial.
To be presented as part of Children’s Cultural Caravan in Europe (August 26-October 29), the play (in English) will be staged in different cities of Germany, Slovenia and Austria. “I am thrilled because the issue we raise has global appeal and we are getting a chance to take it to audiences abroad,” says Bhardwaj amidst rehearsals at a trade union’s office in Andheri. Featuring seven young actors, six of them girls, the play packs in dialogues, dramatic twists and turns, songs, anecdotes and dance. Playing multiple characters like mountain, river, corporate czar, kisan (farmer), neta and bureaucrat, actors put up an honest performance.
Enticed by the promise of regular supply of water and electricity, farmers pawn their land to build a dam only to discover later that they have been cheated. Water bodies like rivulets, wells and reservoirs have dried up as a company has connived with politicians to control water. Riots and clashes are frequent at water taps in villages and towns as people’s patience has thinned. “We are cheated. We are ruined,” goes up the collective cry of villagers who remember how peaceful and harmonious life they lived before they were conned into entering a damaging deal. Their protest reaches the Parliament and the legislators decide the review the project.
The play, the director insists, is neither an endorsement of hollow activism against privatization nor phony criticism of consumerism. “We are not against creating wealth. We are only voicing the concern of a large chunk of our population who, in the name of rampant development, get duped routinely,” explains Bhardwaj whose believes in doing theatre of relevance and whose earlier plays dealt with issues like sex selection, eve teasing and child labour.
The play also hammers home a message about the disaster that water can bring in if its natural course is affected—video clips of recent devastating floods in Uttrakhand are played for good effect.
The actors, mostly between 14 and 18, are equally enthused. The seven actors were selected from among 300 college students who participated in several workshops that Bhardwaj, in association with the NGO Committed Communities Development Trust (CCDT), held across Mumbai, many at sprawling slums of Dahisar and Wadala. Before she joined the workshop a year ago, Dahisar-based Priyanka Vavhal didn’t speak English at all. “I had stage freight and trembled at the mere thought of speaking before an audience. But now I am confident and can take my own decisions,” says Vavhal. Kiran Pal, daughter of a rickshaw driver, is excited that she will get a chance to see a part of Europe in her very first journey abroad. “I had read about Germany and Austria in the books. Now I will be there. But most importantly I am waiting for my first performance in Europe,” says Pal.
Why did Bhardwaj select mostly girls in this troupe? “Girls, especially from lower-middle class, have lesser chance than boys to travel abroad and perform in plays. I never told the boys that they were bad performers, but girls need to be encouraged more,” explains Bhardwaj who had tough time convincing the girls’ parents to allow their wards to accompany him. He adds that because of international rackets in human trafficking, the doubts of some parents were genuine. But they were satisfied once they checked his background. “We are now like a family,” admits Priyanka Rawat who adds that, during the research for the play, she and her co-actors, gained a lot of knowledge about water, including its formation, conservation and distribution during their trips to BMC offices.



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