Pune to host Maharashtra’s first theater festival dedicated to mental health

Maharashtra is about to witness its first theater festival dedicated to mental health. Three plays focusing on mental health will be presented at the Manasrang Theater Festival at The Box, Pune on November 5th for the Marathi Rangbhoomi Din.

At a press conference held on Thursday, Dr. Hamid Dabholkar, theater director Atul Pethe and mental health communicator Izim Inamdar of Parivartan Trust, a Pune-based NGO working for mental health, announced a theater scholarship €50,000 to three theater artists. The scholarship is part of the NGO initiative, Manasrang. The scholarships and the festival are funded by Bajaj Auto, as part of its CSR initiative.

Sachin Shinde, Nashik-based theater director, of the famous production “Hardabhar Chandanya”. (Express photo)

The artists chosen are Nashik-based theater director Sachin Shinde of the famous ‘Hardabhar Chandanya’ production, Abhijeet Zunjarrao, the director of several acclaimed Marathi plays including Mumbai’s ‘Lejhim Khelnari Pora’, and actor -director Kshitish Date, part of Theatron Entertainment of Pune.

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Over the next three months, each of these artists, along with members of their respective production houses, will be working on a 30-minute piece centered around the theme of mental health. All three plays will be presented at the Manasrang Theater Festival and admission to the festival will be free for all. Asked about the process by which they selected these three names, Pethe said, “We have put together a list of nine people from Maharashtra who have been in theater for eight to ten years and have their own production houses. Our plan is to have three editions of the festival – where three names will be chosen each year. For the first year, we didn’t have to think much about the choice – these three have done a phenomenal job over the past decade.

Abhijit Zunjarrao maharashtra theater festival mental health Abhijeet Zunjarrao, the director of several acclaimed Marathi plays including “Lejhim Khelnari Pora”. (Express photo)

A two-day pre-festival workshop will take place June 22-23 for those making the pieces. Prominent psychologist Dr Anjali Joshi, renowned theater artist and author Dr Chandrashekhar Phansalkar and members of Manasrang will orient five people from each theater group on various aspects of mental health to ensure plays are well informed.

The Parivartan Trust’s focus on using expressive art to raise awareness and improve mental health took the form of Manasrang (‘Colors of the Mind’) five years ago. After identifying the positive impact of mediums like drama, poetry writing, singing and art, Pethe and Inamdar decided to develop an initiative where not only artists, but also people with mental illnesses could using art as a means of expression and therefore erasing the stigma around mental health. Since people with mental illness can often find themselves socially withdrawn and feeling guilty, initiatives like these play an important role in bringing them back into society.

“One of the patients wrote poems about his disease. The poems were eventually published in book form and he managed to make a decent sum out of them,” Pethe said.

The current fellowship and theater festival is one more program under the initiative, whose primary goal is to bring a conversation about mental illness to the forefront. Pethe believes that theater is one of the most powerful mediums. “Theatre followed by a discussion with the artists about its content can have a great impact on the public. The artists’ accessibility to the public is what makes it a unique and unparalleled experience. Moreover, a play is not limited to living rooms and cinemas, but can be played in all streets, all nooks and crannies,” he added.

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