A dreaded क्ष word in Dharavi is क्षय रोग: tuberculosis. Dharavi is thought as a hotbed of tuberculosis, especially its multiple drug resistant MDR strain. A person found to have MDR TB and seen at a government-run centre might need to take up to 14,600 pills and 240 injections over two years. Some people with MDR TB find it difficult to see through the full course of medication and the number of cases in Mumbai has risen from 53 in 2010 to 2502 in 2013.
Getting across a story about the disease is challenging, but the ISHARA puppet theatre made it look easy. For a fortnight in December, the ISHARA crew worked with a youth theatre group in Dharavi to fashion gigantic masks and develop a street play.
The work was done on two floors of the Colour Box. On the ground floor, a light-hearted script on TB and its prevention was devised. Meanwhile, on the upper level, the room was transformed into a production line in which papier-mâché masks were carved, dried and painted. Towards the end of the fortnight, the two levels came together at the Maharashtra Nature Park for trial runs of this laugh-riot of a play.
The ISHARA puppet play threw light on the ABCs of TB prevention and cure: simple steps that go a long way. Most of the ideas pointed to the contagious nature of TB and the importance of not stigmatising people with the disease in the community. The performers sang songs about TB to popular Bollywood tunes.
The large masks, similar to those from Greek theatre, were easily spotted on streets of Dharavi, and the antics of Donkey and Hari Potter were a pleasant distraction from the sobering realities of TB. With its 20-foot-high mascot, a woman with a luscious pout, to announce its whereabouts, the play was staged before and during the Alley Galli Biennale. Overall, while TB is not easy to laugh off, the ISHARA puppets injected humour into some strong messages, even if it was for just 20 minutes.
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