Dance for a cause
Abbas with the inmates of the Banyan.
AS YOU wind your way to the back of the beyond where the shelter is, you wonder at the enthusiasm and the energy of the people behind the venture. They are indefatigable in every way! They keep going and to be honest it does not seem like there is any rest, because there does not seem to be an end - to the problem and issue they are constantly addressing. That of destitute mentally disturbed women! And the numbers swell each day. And for many this is the only home and haven, they will ever know. As you enter The Banyan building, that came into being only recently, you are suddenly accosted by a smiling inmate, who, with all the innocence and naivety of a child, holds your hand and refuses to let go. She is seeking that love and approval from you. A small smile from you and she is ecstatic. Further down another one is crying to be let out for Christmas. And when the Banyan volunteer tells her, ``Oh definitely you will go home for Christmas,'' she is all smiles- the tears forgotten like April showers. But the volunteer later tells me; her family does not want her! In fact nobody wants her. And she will never go home for Christmas. ``Do you know how we found her? In tattered clothes, abused by all and sundry, hungry and abandoned.''
It is now a known fact that this is why The Banyan came into existence! To provide a home for women such as these - who have nowhere to go and have none to look after them and where they will not be sexually abused because of their mental state. What started as a small desperate act to save one woman, is now taking care of several and with more coming in each day. What makes it extremely difficult is that they cannot turn anyone seeking this asylum, away. And this costs money in terms of food, shelter, medicines (psychiatric drugs are very expensive) and the general upkeep of The Banyan shelter, which is clean, airy and extremely vibrant in terms of architecture. Funds are always welcome and they do come from philanthropists and charitably disposed organisations and they provide facilities, funds and things in kind. But sometimes even that is not enough, which is why they need to tackle the issue at a higher level - in this instance by getting together the stars (from the film industry) and their drawing power who are often perceived to be greedy, materialistic and selfish. But you only have to see them agree so readily for this cause, to believe how sincere they can be. For the helpless destitutes of The Banyan, they will put their best foot forward and that's how ``Netru Indru Naalai" came into being. And this year all the popular personalities of the film industry will come together on December 14 at IIT. ``Last year we raised money to complete the building and after moving into that one and a half year later, the number of inmates has increased. We were 90 then, and now we are 257 and we have one or two coming in everyday. And what seemed enough yesterday is now inadequate and we find ourselves stretching. Besides at what point do we say no to those who come in? For this show Star Vijay has promised us Rs. 20 lakhs (our monthly bills-medicines, salaries and maintenance are about Rs 6.5 lakhs). And with this money from the show we can start a corpus fund, which should keep us going for a while.
Sitting in deep discussion are Vasanth and Revathi both of whom are going to be scripting and presenting ``Netru Indru Naalai." For Vasanth, this is the second year where he is going to be participating in such a venture. ``Last year I did the script - this is what I can do. Its nothing compared to what Vandana and Vaishnavi do for these people. I've been really touched by their concern for fellow beings. And I feel committed to Banyan I will always be with them in whatever way I can. Since it's a show I can contribute through writing and help in the direction. This year we plan we go through a different route even if the title of the show is the same as last year. For instance we want to show Kamal, SPB through the ages youth love and celebration how it was then and how it is now. Basically I find that the cause keeps us going and this is what I hope to communicate to the people who come. In fact Vairamuthu has coined an anthem Avargal naam agalam naam avargal agalam. Looking young and fresh is Revathi, known to be committed to The Banyan for as long as one can remember. ``I know them from their second anniversary. I've seen them and like them for the single-minded dedication towards what they are doing. What I also like about them is that they not only want to help themselves, but also society at large. What they don't need, they give others. And as far as I am concerned, I am there whenever they need me." And how does she think the show will go? ``I'm hoping for the best," she laughs.
At the small auditorium at The Banyan premises, a rehearsal is on. One of the Five Stars, Krishna (previously an assistant to Rajeev Menon and Lata Menon) is trying out complicated steps, the dance master is teaching him. He does it, but it is not yet perfect. Sweat pours down his brow and he laughs and says ``It's only after ``Five Star" that I've got used to this kind of dancing. Don't you think I looked like a pumpkin in ``Five Star"? He asks modestly? But after all that dancing, he says he lost weight. Now it is easy to pick the steps up. Besides he says he likes working for causes. ``I love to do such things."
It's the next day at the Cine Musicians and Dancers Association premises on Burkit Road. Rehearsals are on in full swing. The song `dola re dola re' from Devdas is being practised and Kala Master, the choreographer, is urging everyone to do their best. Mumtaaz is doing her utmost to swing to the beat that is catchy and full of zest and the rest of the dancers sway with grace and verve. Its not fully done - they have a long way to go, but it will be done. Meanwhile the next set of dancers featuring the three of the Five Stars is on. Prashant, Mangai and Krishna follow the dance masters steps faithfully. Surprisingly they catch on fast and they break for lunch. ``I cried when I went to The Banyan,'' said Mangai. "I have now resolved to do many things for women. Of course I don't know if I will ever be able to do what Vandana and her team are doing -but I can try. I've also decided that what ever I earn one portion would go for such causes.'' Mangai though born in Chennai, lived in Sweden for many years and worked in the embassy. Which connected her to many people from the world and their lives. Now that she is here and a star in the making she hopes she can use this position to help women better themselves.
Shobhana, the Mitr star and National Award Winner for Best Actress, is there all togged in the classical Bharatanatyam practice costume along with three of her disciples. She is a bit vexed because there was no CD player available for her to rehearse her fusion piece Rhythm Scape. But she smiles and says, ``oh alright Ill do my steps to some music.'' And the pattern she forms with her group, is pretty stunning - also because of the colours of pinks and purples highlighting their traditional looks.
``Shobana has been more than associated with us,'' says Vandana. ``In fact she is the one who gave us the push start, and has been there whenever we needed her." ``You know," says Shobhana, ``I have known them for years. I kind of picked them up from the telephone directory just by instinct. I remember one of them came on a moped and I gave them my contribution. What I like about them is that they are very focused. Besides when you do charity you must not make people feel obliged. They never do that. If there is anything I can do for them I do. And I only do it for The Banyan.''
Rhythm Scape also has Vikram Ghosh who plays tabla for Ravi Shankar. Adds Vandana, its very heartening to see all of them participate with such enthusiasm. In fact Simran is arriving on the night of 13th and rehearsing through the night and appearing on stage on the 14th. Walking about checking to see if anything is needed is Suresh Iyer from Star Vijay. ``It's not a commercial venture- it's for a cause. And it's a deserving cause. We are working on it almost like a joint venture. We are with them at every stage of the organisation.'' More are yet to come Abbas, Rambha Ramya Krishnan... the list is long. For those who work quietly unsung behind are people like Anees, who is doing the costumes for the stars, and Srinivas Murthy, the orchestration manager. He is someone who works with Rahman and has a busy schedule. But then this is for a good cause, he says, and "I don't mind putting myself out. I visited the place once and I am so impressed with the work. Besides, if there is anything I can do to help I will and I believe in doing my best. If anything comes out of that well and good.'' Well then December 14 will glitter not just with the presence of artistes and their work but also with a heart that will beat for those poor defenceless destitute women. Who says they have no one? All these people are there to make some difference to their lives!
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