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Monday, Jan 20, 2020
Home / Art and Culture / Let’s put a smile on that face

Let’s put a smile on that face

That’s How We Feel is a clown performance by seven teenage girls about how they felt while growing up in the red light district of Mumbai

art-and-culture Updated: Jan 16, 2020 16:38 IST
Sanskrita Bharadwaj
Sanskrita Bharadwaj

Back in 2012-13, actor-director Rupesh Tillu was on a Clowns Without Borders tour and performed for the people of the red light district in Mumbai. The show was witnessed by hundreds of small girls living in NGOs in the vicinity. Heartbroken upon hearing the stories of these girls, Rupesh promised himself that he would never go there to perform again. “It was too much to take in. I am an artiste, not a social worker,” he says. Those days, Rupesh was living in Sweden. Once he returned home, he kept dreaming about the children he saw in the red light district. “My daughter was born in 2012 and every time I looked at her face, I was reminded of those little girls I met at the district. The nightmares continued for three months. Finally, I called the General Secretary of Clowns Without Borders, Sweden, and told her that I would like to go to Mumbai again and continue the project. So, we visited the district with our show. Our goal was simple — provide psychosocial aid or in simple words — make anyone who is living under stressful conditions, laugh,” Rupesh says.

He then continued to perform at the district until 2015. Post that, he decided to train the girls. “We started training 27 girls from the district in the art of theatre and clowning on every weekend. The goal was to create a show that can be performed for their mothers and others in the community. Finally, the girls performed the show for the first time after a year long training. Their mothers were laughing and crying at the same time. After the show ended, a few mothers came to us and said that they have never seen their girls be so brave and perform for others,” Rupesh says.


Now, for the first time, these girls from the community will be performing at the St Andrew’s Auditorium in Bandra, Mumbai, on January 18. Rupesh, who works primarily in the domain of comedy and humour, says, “I wanted to see them become proper artistes and it’s happening!”

Supported by Clowns Without Borders, Sweden, and Red Nose Entertainment Mumbai, the play titled That’s How We Feel is a devised clown performance by seven teenage girls about how they felt while growing up in the red light district of Mumbai, but it uses comedy as a tool to tell the story.

Direct of the play, Rupesh Tillu
Direct of the play, Rupesh Tillu


The story is directed by Rupesh himself. He says, “The day we started our training, the girls wouldn’t dare to look in our eyes while saying their names. And today, after five years of training, they are ready to be part of a professional clown show to inspire other children and open up a dialogue and discussion.”

When asked why give a clown’s perspective to the play, Rupesh says that a clown’s job in the society is “to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable, and this play is about the latter.” He adds, “People are very well informed about issues these days. So, theatre has lost its purpose of educating people, which it did 20 years ago, because there wasn’t social media back then. But today, I feel, theatre’s job is to make the audience connect with the issue emotionally. As an artiste, I don’t have the capacity to fix the problem, but I can show a mirror to the society. That’s what we are trying to do with the help of this performance.”

Rupesh, who has a Masters in Fine Arts with a specialisation in physical comedy from the National School of Dramatic Arts in Stockholm, Sweden, and has directed and acted in both films and plays, signs off, as he says, “It is important for theatre to become more interactive for it to reach out to more people.”

More Info

What: That’s How We Feel

Where: St Andrews Centre for Philosophy & Performing Arts, Bandra (W)

When: January 18, at 7.30pm.