Twenty-five inmates from city jails, convicted of crimes like murder and drug peddling, will stage an English play, Begum Samroo, early next month. The unique initiative undertaken by the department of correctional services, West Bengal, aims at helping inmates view life from a broader perspective.
“Our goal is to let them experience something enriching and also show the world a different side to them. Many of these inmates hardly speak English, but they have picked up both acting and the language beautifully,” Ranvir Kumar, IG, correctional services, said at the curtain raiser of the play.
“We chose this play, written by late Partap Sharma, to draw attention to an inspiring personality who got lost somewhere in history,” he added. The inmates were trained for more than two years in several workshops by Rohit Pombra, artistic director, Stagecraft, one of the city’s best-known English language theatre groups.
“I don’t know if the inmates' views on crime have changed, but they have all grown as human beings. For them it was a unique opportunity to come together. Many of them don’t even have lines in the play, but they wanted to take part at any cost,” said Pombra.
The two-hour long play will be staged at GD Birla Sabhagar on March 9. The participating inmates are from Alipore women’s correctional home, Presidency correctional home, and Alipore central correctional home.
Nearly all the inmates said they had never been to a theatre in their life, but were learning how to be actors. Aditi Kanjilala, a life convict for murder, who plays Begum Samroo said the experience had left a deep impression on her life. “When I was first offered the role, I simply refused. It was too challenging I thought. But now I feel even I can perform, socialise and live another life, albeit for just some time,” said Kanjilal.
The play deals with the life and times of Begum Samroo, a nautch girl who later married a Swiss mercenary in the 18th century. She went on to become the only Catholic ruler in India, when she starting ruling Sardhana, near Meerut.