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India Foundation for the Arts
Newsletter Edition 39
April 2017 - June 2017
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Hello Readers!

India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) is back with news on our work between April, 2017 and June, 2017!

In this newsletter we look forward to sharing with you updates on our various programmes — Arts Research, Arts Practice, Arts Education and the Archival and Museum Fellowship initiative — including new projects we have supported, and news of our various events and engagements across the country.

Please do visit our website or follow us on Twitter and facebook for updates!
We hope you enjoy the contents of this newsletter and would love to hear from you! Write to us at with any feedback or query.

The IFA Team

Programmes Publications
Events Point Of View
Announcements Support Us

Arts Research (AR)

The Arts Research programme at IFA supports scholars, researchers, and practitioners to undertake research into the histories and expressions of artistic practices in India. It seeks to foster wider perspectives, understandings and interpretations in the arts.

This year’s Request for Proposals, sent out in April, 2017 received an overwhelming response from the field with 160 applications, and counting, going up from 127 in 2016! We look forward to the coming months of intense discussions as we convene a panel of experts to study the short-listed proposals, and make grants as per their recommendations.

Do watch this space or visit our website or follow us on Twitter and facebook for updates on the projects that have received support from IFA, this year.

The Arts Research Programme for the years 2017 to 2019 is supported by Titan Company Limited.

Arts Practice (AP)

The Arts Practice programme supports critical practice in the arts. It encourages practitioners working across artistic disciplines to question existing notions through their practice. The programme also provides limited grants for projects previously supported by IFA, which have unique approaches to disseminating their work. This period witnessed support for two projects that demonstrate these ideas.

We made a grant to Maraa, a media and arts collective based in the city of Bangalore, towards an attempt at understanding diverse perspectives around identity in the country. A group of artists will engage in a set of workshops and take a 30-day reconnaissance journey on a train. The journey will cover four locations across the country through the route Bangalore — Dhemaji — Srinagar – Perambavoor – Bangalore. The journey will involve interactions with fellow passengers and the crew of the train through performances, performative interactions and interviews. The outcome of this project will be a broad performance structure, which will serve as the basis for developing the project further on another journey, scheduled for later this year.

Photographer Soumya Sankar Bose received a grant from IFA in June 2015 to artistically represent the private lives of veteran Jatra artists, evoking their association with the characters they played over the years. This grant culminated in an exhibition at the library in Chitrabani, Kolkata, one of the oldest media training institutes in the city. The multimedia exhibition was a sensorial experience with audio interviews of Jatra artists playing from an old radio, as one soaked in the exhibits of Soumya’s photography and archival material, used items and found letters collected from personal collections of Jatra artists. While this exhibition was held in Kolkata and Soumya’s work itself has travelled far, he wished to take this material back to the communities of Jatra artists who shared stories of their lives unstintingly during the project. He received a dissemination grant to take a shorter, portable version of this exhibition to Midnapore and Gokulpur with events planned in Nandakumar, Belda and Durgapur, where many of the Jatra artists live. Soumya will install the exhibition for one or two days and invite Jatra actors to speak about their life and work.

A snapshot of Soumya Sankar Bose's exhibition at Chitrabani, Kolkata

You can apply for the Arts Practice programme at IFA in any language, throughout the year. Visit our website for more information on the programme, and to know more about applying with your exciting projects!

Arts Education (AE)

The Arts Education programme at IFA called Kali-Kalisu, translated as ‘learn and teach’ from Kannada, places the teacher at the centre of its mandate. It focusses on integrating arts into the curriculum at government schools in Karnataka, through training sessions for teachers from government schools, and support for projects that integrate arts-based learning into the curriculum. In addition to these activities, we also conduct block-level events for administrators, which help create multiple stakeholders invested in the future of education. This extends to the local community who become an important participant, enabler and supporter. The projects supported under this programme and the training modules uniquely seek to engage with local art forms, literature, music, and language.

In this period, we concluded our training programme for the teachers and alumni of Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM) Hosahalli, Ashrama schools. The training sessions were conducted between April 24 and 27, 2017, at the Folklore University, Shiggavi, Haveri District. We followed the progress of Shivkumar Swami, Rajnayak, Lokesh and Mahadev, participants from the previously held training sessions, who presented on their activities post the training, that included collecting little-known songs, creating a picture dictionary, and introducing a newsletter on the campus of their school.

This training programme at Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement was supported by the Titan Group.

IFA will be on All India Radio (AIR) Dharwad!
Tune in August, 2017 for glimpses into the dynamic Kali-Kalisu programme from participants and grantees. Teachers will share with the audience their experiences with training workshops and their individual projects integrating arts into the curricula, along with information about the programme from our Programme Executive for Arts Education, Krishnamurthy TN. These sessions will take on a wide-range of ideas and issues from techniques on sustainable learning, the National and Karnataka Curriculum Framework and Kali-Kalisu, to working with local art forms, and creating art-integrated resource modules and challenges that our teachers face every day. Follow us on Twitter and facebook for updates on the schedule and time of these sessions!

We also continued to plan for the year ahead, while the summer gave us time to recuperate and re-energise for an eventful year packed with workshops, events and projects!

Archival and Museum Fellowships (AMF)

The Archival and Museum Fellowships aim to activate collections in museums and archives in India, through curatorial and artistic interventions. The programme hopes to bring alive museum and archival spaces through meaningful exchanges with the stories, lives, and objects that make our museums. The fellows enable this objective by reimagining the collection through alternative frameworks, and organising public events to bring people into the space!

Researcher and filmmaker Shikha Pandey received a fellowship to work at the Kalakriti Archives in Hyderabad, Telengana, which houses the largest collection of maps in India. Shikha will work with the collections of ‘Munn Maps’, which are maps of Hyderabad city commissioned by the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1908 after the devastating floods in the city, which were created under the supervision of Leonard Munn, the chief inspector of mines. The research aims at studying both the idea of map-making and cartography on the one hand, and the interaction between the map and its user on the other, in an attempt to understand the human experience of maps. She is interested in the ‘Munn Maps’ as they contain very minute details like shop and street names, landmarks and sometimes names of residents as well. Her aim is to develop factual and personal histories of maps from four different locations in the city, around Husain Sagar, Hyderabad. She will create a multimedia artwork that will comprise of historical maps, contemporary projections, official records, and personal stories of the citizens, together with a soundscape of the ‘present’ city.

In this quarter, curator Supriya Menon organised an informative workshop on printmaking, at the Kerala Museum, Kochi, by printmaker and artist Jayesh Barsathi. Jayesh helped 19 participants through the process of learning to make woodcuts based on their own personal designs, at the two day workshop held on May 6 and 7, 2017.

Snippets from the printmaking workshop at the Kerala Museum, Kochi

With the fellowship at the Archives and Research Centre for Ethnomusicology of the American Institute of Indian Studies (ARCE), filmmaker Priya Sen created a multi-sensorial exhibition called Seevbalak’s Echo Chamber, rooted in her interest in the music of the indentured labourers who migrated across the continents – the populations from East India and UP, who migrated to Mauritius, Fiji and Trinidad. Priya delved into the eclectic collection at the ARCE, which includes songs of and for births, weddings, harvests, sowing, summer, rains and parting, from this community. This exhibition is particularly based on one individual – Seevbalak, whose memory yields bhajans, and patriotic and folk songs. Priya, on finding recordings of Seevbalak at the archive notes, “It was like the music of the 1970s Hindi movies. There were elements of ritual music, festival and wedding songs. His words became an echo chamber where multiple experiences collided and produced something I could share.” [Quoted from an article in The Hindu, do follow the link to know more.]

Glimpses from Seevbalak’s Echo Chamber by Priya Sen

The Archival and Museum Fellowship initiative for the years 2015 – 2018 is supported by the Tata Trusts.

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We organise presentations, performances, panel discussions, film screenings and more, as Grant Showcases that take the work of our grantees to audiences across the country. Our staff members also participate in various Seminars and Conferences to talk about our programmes, projects and philosophies of grantmaking. The grant showcases help create dialogue and are exciting spaces of discovery and discussion; while the other engagements held us to continue our dialogue with the field in India and abroad on various issues and concerns on arts philanthropy. Below is a brief account of our many activities through the last few months.

IFA in collaboration with Studio Safdar presented An Evening on Street Theatre in Delhi, by Deepti Priya Mehrotra and Jana Natya Manch in Delhi on June 23, 2017. The evening of readings sought to recall the street theatre culture of 1970s and 80s Delhi, especially looking at feminist street theatre.
Deepti’s project was made possible with a grant to Sampurna Trust with part support from South Asia Women's Fund (SAWF).

IFA has partnered with Tamaasha Theatre for a series of grant showcases in Mumbai over the coming year called 'Searching Cultures'. As part of this partnership we presented Stories from the Archives, on May 27, 2017, in Mumbai. The exhibition and presentation was by Afrah Shafiq, Sujaan Mukherjee and Vishwajyoti Ghosh, who received Archival and Museum Fellowships from IFA to work at the archives of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC).
The fellowships were made possible with support from Voltas Limited.

Sujaan Mukherjee presents his project, at Studio Tamaasha, Mumbai

We organised the launch of the book Witness: Kashmir 1986-2016: 9 Photographers, in association with G5A in Mumbai on May 14, 2017, and at People Tree Studio, Goa on May 15, 2017. The volume, curated by Sanjay Kak, explores press photography as an art practice in the Kashmir Valley.
This project received support from IFA and was also supported by the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development.

Book launch of Witness: Kashmir 1986-2016: 9 Photographers at People Tree Studio, Goa

IFA in association with Vikalp, Bangalore supported the screening of the National Award winning film, The Cinema Travellers by Amit Madheshiya and Shirley Abraham in Bangalore on April 27, 2017. Shirley and Amit received a grant from IFA in 2008 to document these mobile cinema halls, moving on to make the film in 2016.

IFA in collaboration with the Archive and Research Centre for Ethnomusicology (ARCE) organised an exhibition, Seevbalak's Echo Chamber: Sound, Text & Projection by Priya Sen, in Gurgaon on April 24, 2017. Priya received a fellowship from IFA to work at the ARCE, which houses a large collection audio files and sound recordings.
This fellowship was made possible with support from Tata Trusts.

Curator Supriya Menon received a fellowship to work with the collection at the Kerala Museum, Kochi and create events to engage with the public. She organised a printmaking workshop on May 06, 2017, as part of her ongoing activities at the museum, with artist Jayesh Barsathi.

Members of our staff travelled far and wide to participate in discussions on arts and philanthropy.

Menaka Rodriguez, Head of Resource Mobilisation and Outreach was invited to be a Guest Speaker at the ARThinkSouthAsia Fellowship 2017-18, on May 8, 2017, to share with participants her professional journey and fundraising experiences at IFA.

Menaka Rodriguez at the ARThinkSouthAsia Fellowship 2017-18
Photo Credit: ARThinkSouthAsia

Shubham Roy Choudhury, Programme Executive for the Arts Practice programme attended the Showcasing Event organised by EqUIP, Europe-India Social Science and Humanities Platform in Brussels, Belgium between April 24-25, 2017. He participated in discussions on ‘The Future of International Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) Collaboration with India’.

Sumana Chandrashekar, Programme Executive for the Arts Practice programme participated in ‘Mobilising Global Voices’ hosted by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The conference sought to bring together voices and perspectives of researchers, partners, cultural and development organisations and diverse communities, into debates about how arts and humanities research might contribute to international development.

Arundhati Ghosh, Executive Director at IFA, participated in a conference, ‘ Workshop@Academy: Ahead of the Curve’, which sought to explore the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, and its relevance for the contemporary world, on May 19-20, 2017 at Robert Bosch Stiftung, Berlin, Germany.

IFA had launched Catalyst – Arts an Inspiration for Excellence, in November, 2015. Catalyst is a unique initiative, which brings together eminent artists, who will share their experiences about their pursuit of excellence, at corporate venues. As part of this initiative, we have partnered with corporate houses, including Biocon Limited, Sasken Communication Technologies, Centum Electronics, Cisco Systems Inc, and Titan Company Limited. In the last few months artist Jitish Kallat conducted a session, talking about his artistic journey at Centum; while through the year we have also had artists Sanjna Kapoor, Ratna Pathak Shah, Arundhati Nag, Atul Dodiya, Nandita Das, Romi Khosla, Raghu Rai, Rahul Ram, Aditi Mangaldas and Shekar Gupta share about their experiences with the arts.

For more details on Catalyst or if you would like to bring this programme to your company write to

In this quarter, we organised a theatre workshop, by Kirtana Kumar and her team, at Tata Coffee Ltd to engage with employees during their Annual Business Plan Meet. IFA also organised a talk by danseuse Malavika Sarukkai for them entitled, ‘Excellence – A State of Mind’, where the artist shared her philosophies and practices. These events were part of our endeavours to work with the corporate sector, to introduce the arts to their employees.

This period also witnessed a partnership, managed by IFA, between Eicher Motors Limited’s Royal Enfield team and photographer Ronny Sen. This is not part of our grantmaking but comes out of an impulse to connect supporters and artists in collaborative projects. Ronny has embarked on the first leg of his journey to visually construct the idea of the Indian highways from the perspective of a cruiser. He will explore different stretches of highways, across the country, on a Royal Enfield motorbike, bringing together the machine, the landscape, the people, and the rider. This project will unfold over the next few months as Ronny and his co-riders take to the highways.

For more details on the Arts Services provided by IFA please write to

We organised three MaathuKathes this quarter. MaathuKathe translated as conversations in Kannada transforms the IFA office into a sound studio, a bookshop or a stage, once a month, where artists’ showcase their work in an intimate setting. These sessions, marked by lively conversations and debate, have brought publisher and writer Naveen Kishore, the classic blues acoustic trio - Ananth Menon, Vasudev Prabhu and Joe Anthony - of By2Blues and theatre practitioner Anuja Ghosalkar, to our office. Naveen shared vignettes from his writing, ‘First into a murmur. Then into a song. Writing Resistance’, and took us on journey into the world of the arts in India, talking about Seagull Books and the Seagull Foundation. By2Blues played some classic blues and a bit of blues-rock in the band’s unique style – a blend of powerful vocals, rock-solid rhythm and honkin' harmonica! Anuja lead us through a performance of The Reading Room, where the audience read letters, some curated and others from their personal collections, blurring the line between actor and audience member.

MaathuKathe - (Top Left) Naveen Kishore; (Top Right) Anuja Ghosalkar; (Bottom) By2Blues

Upcoming Events

There are several upcoming events spread out across the country, and we look forward to seeing some of you in the audience!

bird_bullet On Tuesday, August 01, 2017 we will open our offices in Bangalore for a MaathuKathe with theatre artist Maya Krishna Rao, who will share with us her practices of theatre making, teaching and drama -in-education and the ways in which they have impacted on each other.

bird_bullet On Saturday, August 05, 2017 the exhibition Collecting the Artist (An exhibition of works from the Madhavan Nayar Foundation Collection) will open at the Kerala Museum, Kochi. Artist Murali Cheeroth will lead a performative walk Memoir (Revisit) through the exhibition. The exhibition will be open to the public between August 06, 2017 and October 31, 2017.

For more details on these events, do sign up for our emails here, follow us on facebook or Twitter for regular updates, or simply tune into our website at:

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We invite proposals for our Arts Education and Arts Practice programmes.

bird_bullet Arts Education
Request for Proposals from artists to work in Government Schools in Karnataka
[Deadline: August 11, 2017]
For more information, write to the Programme Executive at

bird_bullet Arts Practice
Request for Proposals from practitioners
[No Calendar]
For more information, write to the Programme Executives at

Do apply and spread the word!

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We sell postcards featuring the work of our grantees. These stunning postcards offer a glimpse into some of the intriguing projects supported by IFA over the past 20 plus years. Buy your copy today!

Postcards Postcards Postcards Postcards
‘Ant’s Perspective’ story, illustrated by Kutshezo Naro
Photo: Courtesy
Tshetsholo Naro
A participant examines an Indonesian puppet during Anurupa Roy's introduction to shadow puppetry. at the 'Image
& Word: Workshop On Storytelling'.
Photo: Courtesy Alexandra Moskovchuk
Cover page of Marathi Little Magazine Rucha
Jesus painted in the style of Ajanta, water colour on paper
Canvas print: Courtesy Heras Institute of Indian History and Culture, St Xavier’s College Mumbai
Suggested contribution: Rs 200
To buy copies, please click here

We also offer a range of publications for sale including a book on reimagining the space for performance – Beyond the Proscenium, a book on repurposing the Kantha – Embroidering Futures, and issues of Art Connect – a magazine on the arts in India, published between 2008 and 2013, with issues covering diverse art forms and featuring the thoughts of prominent writers, artists and scholars.
To know more and buy copies please click here

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point of view

Shena Gamat
New Delhi | Arts Practice | 2016 – 2017
Shena received a grant towards the creation of an interactive play based on a science fiction story that questions the idea of ‘othering’. The play is an adaptation of James Alan Gardner’s Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream, that examines how ‘otherness’ is manufactured, magnified and fostered in human societies. Human societies all over the world today are growing more and more intolerant of people and cultures that are different from or unfamiliar to them. The play engages with this relevant question and will be performed in conventional theatre spaces and non-conventional venues, like community halls, schools, colleges and independent theatre spaces, to facilitate interactions with audiences who usually don’t watch theatre.

Shena Gamat is a theatre practitioner from Delhi with over 15 years of experience. She is the co-founder of Barefoot! Theatre Company and has recently completed a PG Diploma in Theatre for Education and Social Transformation from Shiv Nadar University. She has worked as the Director of the Youth and Culture Programme, Tarang, at the Society for Labour and Development, New Delhi and as Show Running Director at Kingdom of Dreams, Gurgaon. Shena is particularly interested in the meeting point between performers and audiences and most of her work centres around this interaction.

IFA: Your play, Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream, is an adaptation of James Alan Gardner’s science fiction story of the same name, that examines how ‘otherness’ is manufactured, magnified and fostered in human societies. Why did you choose this text and subject matter for your play?

Shena Gamat: I read the short story almost a decade ago, and was struck by how visual it was and also by how it moved me. I enjoyed the science in it and appreciated the very elemental and universal human theme of ‘otherness’. I thought the instances of hearings, or court scenes, were inherently dramatic and a wonderfully clever way of taking snapshots of our possible Pasts and Future. At the time I felt that it would make a great play, and immediately photocopied it with the thought of “maybe adapting it one day.” Like most ‘maybes’, it began to gather dust.

And then, in the recent past, instances of otherness and divisiveness kept rearing their ugly heads around me.

I have been, very quietly and personally, a political being. I generally concern myself with human rights issues and I ‘do my bit’ as best I can. If someone asked me if I was a ‘political person’ – I would probably reply that we are all political, that everything we do is political, but, no, I’ve never really ‘followed politics’ and I’d be hard pressed to name leaders of political parties, beyond a handful.

But, even I, who doesn’t own a TV with cable, who doesn’t read the papers except occasionally, who generally leaves a room when discussions turn to politics – could not but help feel the weight of events unfolding around me. A man being murdered for what he ate, rhetoric that can only be described as hate mongering, students being beaten up simply for asking questions, the charge of ‘sedition’ being levied with seeming ease, the term ‘rationalists’ beginning to sound like an accusation… A mixture of anger and fear, and deep sadness, engulfed me and before I knew it I was picking up the photocopied pages once again, and this time did a search on the author and sent him an email, requesting his permission to adapt his story to the Indian Stage.

Image from Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream

IFA: Please tell us more about the process of putting together this piece, especially the workshops and other endeavours made towards weaving the actors’ personal experiences with elements of the play.

Shena Gamat: I didn’t want a play that ‘gives gyaan’ or tries to teach anything, but I did want to create the experience of what an open space of dialogue might feel like. For this to happen, we have to reveal something of ourselves, don’t we? Therefore, actors address the audience directly, revealing their own grappling and questions, and associations with the material. They speak in either Hindi or English, depending on their comfort level or desire. They bring the large-scale, political and philosophical arena into the here and now and the personal. To my mind, THIS is at the heart of the play (which I’d rather call an experience actually!) – an invitation and acknowledgement of the empathy that can exist between human beings.

This has been the most difficult part of creating this work – finding the right tone for this kind of sharing. Performance and story and music – we could find our way through these, but vulnerability, transparency, connection? An audience can smell a false note a mile off, and the ‘step outs’, when actors step out of character and address the audience as themselves, have – frankly – been difficult to get quite right. One thing we learned after the first run, is that we absolutely have to stay away from being didactic, preachy or even minimally judgemental – and it was a huge learning to discover how quickly we fell into these modes, sometimes very subtly, almost without realising it. We have come closer to understanding how to work with being simple and present, and I hope that in our next run of shows we will get closer still.

In terms of workshops and processes towards this, the ensemble went through three months of just about everything I could throw at them! Discussions, debates and copious amounts of research as well as rhythm, movement and body work, memory mapping and long visualisations. For the step-outs in particular, each actor worked individually with material that THEY wanted to bring to the piece, which meant something to them personally.

Image from Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream

IFA: You are working with audience feedback in a unique way. Please do tell us more about this process.

Shena Gamat: Ah yes! The controversial, not-quite-ironed-out mechanism of audience feedback in this play!

On the surface of it there does not seem to be anything to argue with in this production – many people would agree that divisiveness is harmful, and if that is all that this story was saying it would be a bit of a non-starter. But, the key line that ends the play – “why concern yourself with the snake in front of you when you are blind to the serpents in your own heart?” – is really the push of the piece. It asks us to examine ourselves, to question whether we ourselves are part of the “urge to demonise the different.” If anything that is my ‘agenda’ – to invoke the spirit of questioning, particularly of oneself.

In order to do this, the actors literally collect questions that audience members scribble down during the course of the performance (they are handed pens and slips of paper when they enter). In other words, the audience is encouraged to actively think, articulate associations and reflect on the questions that arise in their minds during the show. These questions are then reflected back, examined and held up to the light by the actors. The idea isn’t so much to ‘answer’ them, as to delight in the spirit of enquiry and allow the myriad possibilities of ‘answers’ to hang in the air, connecting everyone present.

I’ve had people say that this exercise ‘breaks the flow of the play’, or is ‘uncomfortable’ or even ‘unnecessary’. While I may agree with the first two comments I don’t worry overmuch – a performance need not always flow and need not always be comfortable. But I certainly don’t think it is ‘unnecessary’. The play is about ‘othering’ and divisiveness. I do not want to contribute to the ongoing debate between ‘us’ and ‘them’, I am looking for spaces of connection. This is why I HAVE to include the questions and ‘step outs’ and work towards creating a lived experience – and I truly believe that a live theatre experience can do this. Perhaps I will ultimately fail with this show in this aspect, but I must try. I am grateful to IFA for supporting the endeavour, and being willing to take this risk.

Besides, when audience members have shared questions such as “Is faith just perception – what you choose to see?”, “Is there a vaccine for fear?”, “How the hell do I stay away from judgement and labels and habit?”, “Draw a monster – what makes it a monster?”, or “Is there music in colours?” and these have been shared in the here-and-now of a live performance – I feel a little vindicated!

Image from Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream

IFA: You have already performed in a couple of spaces. Please talk to us about your experience thus far.

Shena Gamat: Both runs have been in Delhi. The first (December, 2016) was at ‘OddBird Theatre’, an upcoming theatre space frequented by audiences who for the most part speak English and are theatre-going savvy. These were ticketed shows. The second run (March, 2017) was held at Anand Lok Community Centre, a neighbourhood Residents’ Association space. These shows were not ticketed. Most of the residents of the area are not regular theatre-goers, although they are familiar with English. Both runs were open to the general public. For the second run, a large part of the promotions were done within the neighbourhood itself, through the local Residents’ Association. For this run, we also created a small ‘exhibition’ of our process work, in order to engage with audiences before and after the show.

Like in any somewhat experimental and developing work, we were able to change/edit portions of the show between runs – using our experience of the first to inform the second.

Feedback from the local community at Anand Lok who came to watch the play has been encouraging. Some were watching a performance for the first time, a few were senior citizens and almost all of them were pleased to find the show stimulating. Many of them asked us to perform again, as they wanted their neighbours and relatives to watch the show as well.

Interestingly, although the show is intense and full of ‘science’, no one mentioned not being able to understand what was going on. Most people seem to have gained something out of it; the opportunity and challenge of engaging with a densely-packed show like this seems to have been appreciated, most importantly – among non-theatre goers as well.

Image from Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream

IFA: This project also seeks to move the play beyond the esoteric world of theatre, to spaces that do not usually participate in such engagements. How are you moving forward with this idea? Why is this an important part of your project?

Shena Gamat: I’m glad you call it a ‘project’. That’s exactly how I feel about it. For me, this is more of an ongoing project than solely a play.

The idea of taking the performance to places that are varied and easily accessible, so that ‘non-theatre-goers’ can participate is, for me, imperative – and very closely linked to the subject matter and treatment. Since the play is ultimately about ‘otherness’ and the factors that make up our propensity for divisiveness, it is important that conversations and questions around these topics involve people from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests, and not just ‘intellectuals’ or people interested in the arts, who often sport a fairly liberal stance. Putting a production into the ‘box’ of an auditorium or in certain locales means missing out on sharing it with people who may feel that such ‘high-brow’ theatre is not for them or for whom it is simply just too difficult to get to in terms of physical distance and traffic.

Since the play is basically in English, this would mean that one is restricted to areas where English, if not first language or spoken, is at least readily understood. Within this though, there is a wide variety of people – particularly those who may never have watched a play before. This means that one will be able to share the performance with people of varying political beliefs and/or world views.

On a more general note, and a selfish one as a theatre practitioner, the idea is also to grow audiences. These days whenever a group of theatre folk gets together in Delhi, conversation invariably turns around to how difficult it is to stage plays, how there’s no money, how part of the problem is the expensive auditoriums, but also how there seems to be no audiences beyond the loyal few who rotate at most shows – most of them being friends and family of performers or people involved in the production.

A high-profile theatre event such as ‘Meta Awards’, the NSD festival or ‘Short and Sweet Festival’ or a performance from a well-known personality, particularly if they’re from out of town, would suddenly see a burst of a new theatre-going crowd, but these events are expensive to put up and one wonders where the crowd disappears after the events are over, while other plays are (bravely) being staged.

So, where is the general public and why don’t they come watch a theatrical production?

I believe there are two main reasons. One, plays in Delhi are mostly concentrated in auditoriums that are in the Central part of the city. This makes them inaccessible in that they are just too far away physically to get to for many people and also there is a sense that such places are not meant for those who are not ‘theatre and arts aficionados’ or ‘intellectuals’. Two, many people who are not regular theatre-goers have had the unfortunate experience of having watched a bad play, and consequently they write off all plays as being stuffy, boring and unrelated to their lives.

I hope that Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream is vibrant, engaging and thought-provoking. The music score (Anant Dayal) and songs (Aditi ‘Dot’ Saigal) are certainly more than I could have hoped for. Overall, I have some hope that it will be a positive experience for first-time theatre goers.

Going forward, we’re looking at venues such as schools, colleges, science institutions and other non-conventional spaces for further shows.

Image from Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream

IFA: Please tell us more about any challenges encountered in the process of making this play.

Shena Gamat: One of the biggest challenges has been working with the ensemble cast (twelve actors and three musicians) of highly talented and busy individuals – purely from the scheduling point of view!

Other challenges have mostly centered around getting the step-outs by actors and questions from the audience to work so that they are well integrated into the structure and content of the whole show, with truth and grace.

Regarding the script itself, I feel that the device of a ‘parallel reality’ works very well – it manages to distance the events to the degree that one can actually view them critically, allowing the rational mind to work through the imaginative one. While some personal and philosophical or political associations naturally crop up in an audience member’s mind, such associations are also drawn out within the performance itself. The challenge has been how to manage this without overpowering the beauty and ‘distancing effect’ of the story itself.

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Support Us

India Foundation for the Arts makes grants to artists, scholars and institutions throughout the year. For all these exciting projects to take shape, we have to constantly raise funds. We would like to thank our donors who have supported us and made the many projects possible in the last few months. We would especially like to acknowledge the support from Tata Trusts.

You can support and engage with IFA in many ways—by becoming a Friend of IFA or a Donor Patron or even by sponsoring our fundraising events and by spreading the word about IFA. Every contribution counts.

bird_bullet   Last chance to Become a Friend of IFA at Rs 3500/-
Support us by becoming a Friend of IFA. As a Friend, you will be contributing directly to philanthropy in the arts and increasing the presence of the arts in public life. It starts at just 3,500/- a year and your donation is tax-deductible under 80G. You will receive exclusive access to IFA events and our Annual Reports. Become a Friend of IFA.

bird_bullet   Become a Donor Patron
We invite you to donate generously and join IFA's Donor Patron Circles and be a part of the IFA family. By joining IFA's Donor Patron Circles, you can choose to contribute directly to our Corpus or support a specific grantee whose work is of interest to you; you can underwrite operational costs or extend your support to any one of our programmes. Donor Patron circles include Platinum, Gold and Silver categories. Patrons receive a mention in our Annual Report; get exclusive access to IFA events and more. Learn more about our Donor Patron Circle.

bird_bullet   You can support us by sponsoring our events, inviting our grantees to showcase their work at your workplace or home, or even attending our events, and forwarding this newsletter to your friends who are interested in the arts. If you would like to support IFA in anyway, please contact Menaka Rodriguez at

bird_bullet   You can also support us by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter and Youtube. Stay tuned to know more about our projects, initiatives and exciting events!

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India Foundation for the Arts
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