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How Art is Reforming Prisoners, Giving Them Another Chance In Life

Among other works, deft illustrations and canvasses of Saraswati, Ganesha and Buddha now line the Tihar gallery walls, which can be accessed with permission. Programmes of yoga, dance and music also mark the prisoner's calendars now.

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Employing art and theatre as avenues for change, the two prisons are allowing creative freedom to prisoners in confinement. In return, the inmates also see it not just as a meaningful pastime, but a rehabilitative intervention and a possible vocation to take up after their jail term. Pixabay

One often thinks of Indian prisons as dingy, cramped cells with their mean and often dehumanised inmates waiting for redemption. So it comes as a surprise when a group of prisoners takes to stage and gets applauded for performing a play written by Rabindranath Tagore or when paintings made by inmates are appreciated by art connoisseurs and get sold at art exhibitions for thousands of rupees.

But isn’t that what prisons are supposed to be about? To reform those who committed mistakes in their lives and give them a second chance. Contrary to popular perception of prisons as violent spaces, two Indian prisons, Delhi’s Tihar Jail and West Bengal’s Berhampore Central Correction Home, are doing just that by encouraging healthy practices of painting, sketching and performing theatre for inmates who are prepared to lead a new life.

Employing art and theatre as avenues for change, the two prisons are allowing creative freedom to prisoners in confinement. In return, the inmates also see it not just as a meaningful pastime, but a rehabilitative intervention and a possible vocation to take up after their jail term.

Suraj Prakash, an art instructor from the College of Art, has been teaching Tihar (Jail 4) inmates every week since June 2017, after several inmates were spotted doing amateur sketching and painting by the jail administration.

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“Theatre is my weapon. It has transformed the lives of these people. They may have committed crimes, but the rehabilitation has been immensely successful.” Pixabay

“To encourage them, Superintendent Rajesh Chauhan contacted instructors to teach them. The group has now snowballed from a handful to around 200, and over 20 have mastered it in less than two years,” Prakash told IANS.

Equipped with an in-house art gallery now, the ‘Tihar School of Art’ has sold close to 60 artworks since its inception, and even garnered Rs 5-6 lakh. According to Prakash, half the money from each sale is deposited into the respective inmate’s account, and the rest goes into funding art activities.

A booth was dedicated to showing works of art by the inmates at the India Art Festival.

Among other works, deft illustrations and canvasses of Saraswati, Ganesha and Buddha now line the Tihar gallery walls, which can be accessed with permission. Programmes of yoga, dance and music also mark the prisoner’s calendars now.

The second initiative, tagged as theatre therapy, started when theatre director Pradip Bhattacharya ventured into the Berhampore prison for a jail performance in 2006 where he saw gender-segregated cells with low levels of literacy among inmates.

On a proposal by the prison’s Inspector General B.D. Sharma, Bhattacharya started working with the prisoners, many of whom were sentenced for life. What cemented their tie as director and actors was a meal he shared with them, which “changed their body language completely”.

“Theatre is my weapon. It has transformed the lives of these people. They may have committed crimes, but the rehabilitation has been immensely successful,” he told IANS.

While some prisoners were involved in land disputes, some were convicted for murder in a fit of anger. Bhattacharya said that they were not born criminals, but accidental ones, which is why their reform was easier.

A troupe of 26 actors from the Berhampore Repertory Theatre staged a play written by Rabindranath Tagore, “Jakshapuri (Raktakarabi)” on Thursday here, as part of a National School of Drama theatre fest. For Bhattacharya, who said Tagore was immediately relatable to the prisoners, understanding the cultural figure is not a matter of education.

“He is not a high-mounted photograph for them. He is their guru, Gurudev.”

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While some prisoners were involved in land disputes, some were convicted for murder in a fit of anger. Bhattacharya said that they were not born criminals, but accidental ones, which is why their reform was easier.
Pixabay

After staging over 50 shows of three Tagore productions in various locations across India, the troupe does plan on taking up theatre when they are free. “Theatre gives a peace of mind. I am relieved of all tensions when I act. I have found Bhattacharya, who is like my father,” inmate-actor Sapan Mehena told IANS.

Bhattacharya, who also proudly pointed to two prisoners who fell in love during the rehearsals, also said that many are also taking to education. Mehena, for instance, has completed class 10 in jail.

Buddhadev Meta, one of the main characters of the play, said: “When I was sentenced to life, there was a depressing darkness all around, and I thought to myself that my life is over, but when the director encouraged us to do theatre, it was a new platform for living life altogether. I don’t want to lose it now.”

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Meta, who also found his partner in a co-prisoner who played the protagonist Nandini, said that he has found his “sansar” (world), and for earning livelihood, Bhattacharya has given him a new avenue. He proudly added that he wants to continue with theatre even after he is free.

Meta also said that he is learning a few words of English, and his Bengali is now “completely clear”, owing to theatre rehearsals. (IANS)

Next Story

Reports Say, Indians Watched Over 2,200 Movies in Theaters in 2019

The Shahid Kapoor-starrer "Kabir Singh" and the Prabhas-starrer "Saaho" were the next best loved movies

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The Hollywood blockbuster Movies Like "Avengers: Endgame", a superhero film with stars like Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Brie Larson, emerged as the number one choice among moviegoers in India. Pixabay

 Indians watched more than 2,200 movies in theatres in 2019, with people of Delhi booking the most number of tickets, followed by Chennai and Mumbai.

Among Tier-2 cities, the people of Jaipur, Lucknow and Visakhapatnam emerged as the ultimate movie fanatics.

Akshay Kumar, who gave four hit films — “Kesari”, “Mission Mangal”, “Housefull 4” and “Good Newwz” in 2019 — was the year’s top star. Hrithik Roshan’s experiment with his look in “Super 30”, which narrated the life of mathematician Anand Kumar and his educational programme, and him performing high-octane action sequences in “War” helped him win over the audience once again.

National Award-winning actor Ayushmann Khurrana also impressed the movie-goers with his films — “Article 15”, “Dream Girl” and “Bala”.

Hrithik and Ayushmann took the 2nd and 3rd spots respectively. These interesting movie trends of 2019 were revealed in a report released by Paytm Entertainment on Friday.

Among actresses, “Kabir Singh” star Kiara Advani made it to the top position, followed by Shraddha Kapoor (“Saaho” and “Chhichhore”) and Kriti Sanon (“Luka Chuppi”, “Arjun Patiala”, “Housefull 4” and “Panipat”).

The Hollywood blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame”, a superhero film with stars like Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Brie Larson, emerged as the number one choice among moviegoers in India.

About 50 per cent of tickets sold for “Avengers: Endgame” were for Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. At the peak of bookings, the film saw 1400 tickets sold per minute on Paytm.

The Shahid Kapoor-starrer “Kabir Singh” and the Prabhas-starrer “Saaho” were the next best loved movies.

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National Award-winning actor Ayushmann Khurrana also impressed the movie-goers with his Movies — “Article 15”, “Dream Girl” and “Bala”. Bollywood Country

Vijay’s “Bigil” (Tamil) claimed the title of the top regional movie, followed by Mahesh Babu’s “Maharshi” (Telugu) and the Diljit Dosanjh-starrer “Shadaa” (Punjabi).

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Overall, Tamil movie bookings increased by 78 per cent, Telugu movies saw a leap of 116 per cent and Punjabi movies grew by 20 per cent on Paytm. (IANS)