Theatre is one of the oldest and the best form of connecting with, and entertaining the masses. Besides entertaining, theatre has been performed to bring about awareness on social issues. GS Channi or Gurcharan Singh Channi is a pioneering force behind community theatre. His journey is an interesting one, where he aspired to a religious preacher but ended up being a theatre actor and a TV film-maker.
Channi is an alumunus of Panjab University’s Department of Indian Theatre, National School of Drama and Film and Television Institute of India. Being on the stage and under the spotlight also included an initial rebellion from his mother. As Channi was born in a devoutly religious Sikh family, his mother feared that Channi would trim his hair after joining theatre. But after his mentor Balwant Gargi’s assurance, she agreed.
The major reason for which, Channi chose community theatre over commercial theatre synonymise with his no-nonsense kind of attitude. According to him a select few people come to see a play only if it goes down well with their taste. Whereas in community theatre, people watch a play because it connects to their immediate problems. He minces no words and says “It’s not my duty to entertain the society. I make plays with an aim to shake the sleeping establishments. We are here to provoke and reform, not entertain.” He is the director of Centre for Education and Voluntary Action (CEVA), an institution founded by him which conducts street plays, theatres and clowning in hospitals.
Yes, you read that right. A clown in a hospital is a pretty unusual sight, but Channi and his team have made this a common sight in Chandigarh’s important hospitals. Under this new initiative, a team of clowns goes to hospitals and makes patients and their families smile with their tricks and antics. This method of healing by humour is very popular in The USA and Europe. Clowns help the patients and their families to adapt to the hospital surroundings and can help distract them from the environment filled with grief and the frightening procedures of a hospital. The presence of clowns in the ward is also known to have a health enhancing effect on the patients.
Channi discovered this idea at a fest in Tamil Nadu where he was invited by professional clowns from all over the world. According to Channi, hospitals are one of the most depressed places in a city. A patient, his family and even the doctors and nurses work in a depressive environment. As he personally hates depressive environments, he came up with this. He feels sense of personal victory when patients appreciate his work and ask him and his team to stay a bit longer or come back again. Besides doing it in hospitals, they also do the clowning in public places like markets. Presently, Channi and his team are performing their noble act in Government Multi Speciality Hospital Sector 16, Chandigarh and are planning to do it Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Chandigarh as well.
He plans on training 200 clowns, who can voluntary support his work.
Text and images by Gurbir Singh Sidhu