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What makes the Adishakti festival such an integral part of the cultural calendar?

Since 2014, this annual festival has celebrated theatre, music and dance, with the performers paying tribute to the legacy of Adishakti’s founder Veenapani Chawla

'Apne Ghar Jaisa'
'Apne Ghar Jaisa'

In 2014, four months after Veenapani Chawla, the founder of Auroville-based Adishakti Laboratory for Theatre Arts Research, passed away, its core members wanted to pay tribute to her rich legacy and contribution to the performing arts. There were also concerns about the future of Adishakti, both financially and creatively. 

“As a way to honour her memory, within a week eight artists decided to come together with their work to Adishakti. It was a saving grace to pull us out of the circumstances,” says Vinay Kumar, artistic director, Adishakti, recalling the first edition of the festival, ‘Remembering Veenapani’. 

Since then, every year in the first week of April, the lush campus comes alive with a celebration of theatre, music, and dance. This year too, the eight-day festival has a line-up of performers from around the country, beginning with a premiere of Adishakti’s own, He-Rose, produced in collaboration with Ecole Nationale supérieure des Arts et Techniques du théâtre (ENSATT), Lyon. 

Much like its first edition, the festival is crowd-funded and free for all to watch. “When we started, only 100 people who showed up. We realised we hadn’t been able to spread the word. Now, we get as many as 600 audience members,” says Kumar. “We are toying with the idea of doing two shows a day next year. We also plan to have a dedicated team to manage the crowds”. 

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This year, Gupshup, a series of conversations with performing art practitioners, moderated by academic and performer Shanti Pillai, will also be a part of the festival. 

Kumar admits that ‘Remembering Veenapani’ remains an unstructured festival, with the team approaching programming like a spectator. “We don’t work with themes but rely on what we want to see as a collective. It has to create a curiosity within us. There is no application process, with performers being invited to participate in the festival. We have a balance of theatre, music, and dance,” he explains.

While the festival has developed its following over the years, the objective continues to be to bring viewers into the space and community that Chawla built. For artists from across disciplines, who have crossed paths with Chawla, there is also a certain reverence attached. The festival has now become a pilgrimage of sorts. 

In the last 10 years, ‘Remembering Veenapani’ has remained free for audiences, but some shows might get ticketed in the near future. “The festival is evolving and has the potential to go international. We are still developing the ecosystem around it and may want to ticket it in the future,” says Kumar. 

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The highlights

Mad and Divine, Voice of two mystics, Janabai and Lalded

Presented by Rama Vaidyanathan, originally commissioned by dancer Anita Ratnam in 2011, this performance is about the life and teachings of the two mystic poets—one from Maharashtra and the other from Kashmir, and their eventual spiritual awakening.

Apne Ghar Jaisa

A man has rented a room in a woman’s house. As she readies herself to welcome the paying guest, she is troubled by his unusual name. The play, directed by Anmol Vellani, is a portrait of everyday bigotry and the othering of human beings. 

8 Stories. 8 Songs. 8 Women

Adishakti Theatriculate Fellowship Awardee Deepa D will present a dance theatre performance based on the concept of Ashta Nayika in the 21st century. 

BE-LOVED

Directed by Sapan Saran, this is an evening of music, theatre, and poetry centred around queer love. It draws from history and literature to create a sense of community. 

Namit & Khwaab

Namit Das and Nishant Sagar bring together Hindustani poetry by greats like Ghalib, Parveen Shakeer, Munir Niazi, and Ameeta Parsuram among others, with electronic sounds. 

The Far Post

The story of two enemy soldiers journeying to the afterlife with the help of a genial Postman Aunty, who serves both sides of the conflict, and a pet goldfish. The play in the Lepcha dialect, directed by Yuki Ellias and produced by Dur Se Brothers, features music by the Sikkimese band Sofiyum. 

Remembering Veenapani is taking place at the Adishakti Theatre Lab in Auroville till April 8. Entry is free, on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

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