Honoring Veenapani: A Festival of Artistic Exploration at Adishakti

How does one honor a mentor whose impact transcends the personal and pervades an entire art form? Perhaps by nurturing the land she cherished, sustaining the rigorous work ethic she instilled, and continuing to inspire those whose lives she touched. These are just a few ways that the core team of Adishakti Theatre Arts in Auroville commemorates their founder through the annual Remembering Veenapani Festival (RVF).

Now in its momentous 10th edition, the festival will unfold from April 1st to April 8th at the verdant Adishakti campus. The eight-day event pays homage to the late Veenapani Chawla, a visionary who placed a spotlight on the expansive potential of the theatre. She crafted a unique performance training methodology that today draws practitioners from far and wide.

The upcoming RVF exemplifies diversity and cultural richness, featuring an eclectic program that seamlessly weaves together various artistic expressions. From a theatrical piece performed in Lepcha, complete with English subtitles and live folk fusion music by the band Sofiyum, to a dance-theatre portrayal of Janabai and Lal Ded, the lineup is nothing short of spectacular. Attendees can also look forward to modern musical interpretations of Hindustani poetry, a profound reimagining of Achilles and Arjuna’s legendary narratives, and an exploration of queer love through a multicolored prism of arts.

Adding to the festival’s repertoire is Yuki Elias, a theatre-maker of over twenty years, bringing her directorial work “The far post” to RVF. Recalling her own transformative experiences at Adishakti back in 2006, Elias emphasizes the unique craft of the institution’s work, which she finds endlessly fascinating.

Padmavati Rao, a seasoned actor recognized for her extensive theatre and film career, shares similar sentiments. Marking her debut performance at Adishakti with the Hindi play “Apne ghar jaisa,” directed by Anmol Vellani, Rao celebrates the opportunity to explore complex themes of everyday bigotry. She deeply believes that Veenapani, a figure of pivotal influence during a critical period in her life, would have been proud to witness her ongoing artistic evolution.

Artistic Director of Adishakti, Vinay Kumar, speaks with pride about how RVF resonates with the creative energies of actors, theatre-makers, musicians, and audiences alike. He credits Veenapani with anchoring emerging artists to their distinctive voices, reflecting on how she shaped the myriad perspectives of the original team, many hailing from small villages. He sees the festival as an extension of the legacy that transforms Adishakti into an institution of learning and sharing.

The growing appeal of the festival is evident in the increasing number of theatre troupes and attendees eager to participate each year. Plans are underway to map the festival’s future, with a focus on accommodating more visitors in the years to come. Despite a self-sustaining ethos, which includes a guesthouse, kitchen, state-of-the-art theatre, and technological resources, managing finances remains a concern, particularly with the commitment to keep performances accessible to all. Generosity through crowd-funding and audience donations becomes imperative to support the artists presenting their work during RVF.

The festival’s rich programming also includes workshops on nirgun and bhakti music, didgeridoo crafting and playing, as well as ‘gupshup sessions’—informal interactions offering insights into the creative processes of participating artists.

As the Remembering Veenapani Festival gears up for another immersive experience, it stands as a testament to a legacy that bridges traditional forms of art with contemporary storytelling, while nurturing a community of artists dedicated to Veenapani Chawla’s vision of theater as a transformative force accessible to all.

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