As I entered the theatre the house was full and audibly expectant; as the play ended crowd was visibly appreciative and a few even ecstatic which was quite an achievement and cause for satisfaction for the group of people who presented Banaprasthaat Edison Valley Playhouse on May 31, 2009. The play was generally well produced. A full house helps to create an environment of connectivity between the performers and audience. Perception of a full house and ambience that it helps create encourage the players to be their best. Selection of this adequately equipped arena, small in size, reflects producers’ sensibility about the importance of interaction between the players and the viewers and economic prudence at the same time.
I think it was in 2004 when I met Pranay Dutta, an AIDS activist from Calcutta who was on a world tour attending several AIDS conferences in Europe, Asia and America. Pranay Dutta was then (and I understand he still is) the secretary of Sonata Foundation, an NGO in Calcutta who was trying to spread AIDS awareness in West Bengal and India through music, documentaries and performing arts. His theory was that HIV/AIDS awareness through print media was bound to be a failure in India where the majority of the affected people are illiterate. He thought that if this message can be spread out using music and performing arts then it could have the greatest impact. During my discussions with Pranay, he told me numerous incidents of how HIV and AIDS are affecting the poor Indian population. But what struck me most was the fact that how this disease was surreptitiously spreading amongst the educated, urban middle class. He told me several incidents of well-to-do middle class families affected with HIV and their attempts to hush it up, just like the way people used to do in the early half of the twentieth century when people got infected with TB or Leprosy or something similar. The fear of social back lash was more than the disease itself. Anybody infected with HIV is immediately branded as an immoral social outcast – some one who does not have the right to exist amongst the social elite. Most middle class family consider themselves immune to HIV and think that this is only a poor man’s disease. As Pranay says in one of his interviews with Voice of America, people in our society doesn’t care about HIV until someone in their family is infected. It is difficult to make someone aware when he or she doesn’t want to be.