Ahana Sood: Cheer Leader of Revival of Traditional Nautanki

Ahana links past with the present, with some drama

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She is not your usual 18 year old — fresh out of school, puzzling over the future course of life. Meet Ahana Sood, social entrepreneur aspirant, The Heritage School, Gurgaon alumnus, who also happens to have pre-college courses on entrepreneurship from Columbia Business School and Brown University in her kitty. And that’s not all. She is the brains behind ART NAY, a theatre group that works for and with Nautanki artistes.

What is ART NAY? What was the reason behind creating it?
ART NAY (Association for Revival of Traditional Nautanki Among Youth) was founded primarily to save the dying art form of Nautanki and create a future audience for it. It was after interacting with grieving artistes who were struggling to earn their livelihoods in this culturally reputed field that the thought struck me.
How did you get involved in theatre?
I was introduced to theatre as a child, I’ve acted in many plays since then. Theatre has been a part of me for the past seven years now. When I took a year off from studies to delve deeper into areas of my interest, I decided to create ART NAY after spending time with Nautanki artistes in Thathiya, a village in Northern India.

Tell us something about Nautanki and also why you chose Thathiya as the beginning of your search.
Nautanki is a folk art which presents a social message through song, dance, and drama. It gave birth to Bollywood (popular Hindi cinema) and has been a part of our culture since the 16th century. Unfortunately, today it is on the verge of extinction. I discovered Nautanki in the 10th standard while travelling to Thathiya. As an actor and a theatre enthusiast I was blown away by the magnitude of it all and saddened that I was previously unaware of this magnum opus.
Thathiya was the birth place of Gulab Bai, the first woman to perform Nautanki. She won a Padma Shri (a national award in India) for her contributions to the folk art. So, it seemed apt to visit Thathiya.
How do you plan to address the issues plaguing this art form?
After extensive research I found that there were three major problems — lack of monetary resources, lack of awareness, and lack of performance opportunities.
ART NAY’s business plan caters to all these three issues by initiating fundraisers in schools. At the same time, the live performance at these schools spreads awareness of the art form. The media helps the movement by spreading the word. We have also convinced schools to take Nautanki as an art form in their respective theatre societies and do at least one performance each year. We have successfully followed this model with the Millennium School Noida with the support of the Sangeet Natak Akademi.
We are also working on providing artistes with increased performance opportunities.

How do you think this age-old art form is relevant in the modern day?
In today’s world Nautanki performances can be used to convey social messages such as women’s empowerment, birth control, educating the girl child, toilets for women, Swachh Bharat campaign, HIV prevention, alcohol addiction, and many more burning issues. They can also be used as economical forms of entertainment for depicting mythological and other historical and contemporary stories to today’s generation.

What is ART NAY working on and what is the future like?
In 2017, we have signed up with 15 schools in 11 Indian cities to further this initiative. We should thus be able to reach around 30,000 students this year. Those interested in joining this movement can visit our website artnay.com for future events.

SOURCE: Ahana Sood