Streets to Hearts: Here’s How Tanvi & Nizamuddin are Changing Lives
Oscar Wilde once said, "I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being."
How beautiful is the concept of theatre! An art, a language for all, a form of communication that knows no bounds. India is a country rich in culture, heritage, and art forms, and for generations we have valued our artists across the entertainment industry. While we look up to artists for their exceptional talent, there are some who use this art form to educate, spread awareness and make society better. Here are two renowned artists from Mumbai, Tanvi Patankar and Nizamuddin Shah, who are breaking social barriers and educating communities, one street play at a time.
Tanvi and Nizamuddin grew up in different worlds with a mutual love for street theatre. Tanvi, a filmmaker, theatre artist and traveler, studied in New York and was inclined towards arts since the beginning. She attended numerous street plays put up by talented individuals and often came across crowds that laughed at the concept. She wanted to change mindsets and encourage the talent of upcoming performers.
Nizamuddin, on the other hand, grew up supporting his family financially by selling vegetables, mangoes, boiled eggs and even catering at weddings. He lived in a neighborhood that faced water crisis and witnessed people quarrelling every day. To promote peace and togetherness, along with his friends, he started enacting street plays. His friends were going down dangerous paths and he learnt quickly that street plays were a productive and healthy outlet for their struggles. Nizamuddin’s first play, ‘Save Water’, was written and put up on his own at the age of 10. He and Tanvi met at one of his street plays, and together, they co-founded Young Creative Production in 2011, a film production company that produces street theatre around various social causes and encourages young artists from rural communities to explore their love for performing.
The unpopularity of street plays in India does not make it easy for Tanvi and Nizamuddin. They struggle to find artists, witness performers dropping out last minute and face audiences that are nothing but discouraging. A challenge for Tanvi was (and still is!) encouraging female artists. In the beginning, it was harder to recruit women on their teams, and they had to resort to men taking over the roles meant for women, leading to more ridicule. They worked on this by raising awareness and encouraging women to break out of their shells, allowing them to explore and grow till they’re ready to take part in street plays. Tanvi started filling in to perform on behalf of those who dropped out, and her talent and courage gradually motivated women to join in. She says, “People have already made a choice of likes and dislikes. Not everyone appreciates street theatre as much as cinema. They don’t value the artists who perform under the sun, and don’t quite understand why we do it in the first place.” Nizamuddin’s younger brother, Amiruddin Shah, is India’s first ballet dancer. The Netflix original ‘Yeh Ballet’ describes the struggles faced by Amiruddin to pursue his dream to dance despite the disapproval of his family. This film reminds audiences that with the right guidance, encouragement and faith, young talent can reach exceptional heights.
Fortunately, Tanvi and Nizamuddin look past their struggles and continue to inspire and encourage young artists to be themselves, focus on their strengths and work on their weaknesses. “It is a means of personality development”, they say. Nizamuddin encourages young talent by helping them visualize their career paths. Their goal is to motivate children belonging to underserved communities and give them a platform to showcase their skills. They give children and adults a voice, help boost their personalities and use their talent to spread awareness on various social causes. They even worked over the pandemic, employing different means to engage with their audience. Combined, their efforts have led to over 500 children being trained in the art, with over 50+ topics ranging from social issues to health and wellness covered in their events and workshops. There is no age limit to this field, as they have people from ages 7 up to 40. They operate all over Mumbai city, and hold close to their heart their most explorative, and challenging play - ‘Bulbul’, truly one of a kind.
Tanvi’s final piece of advice to the youth is to believe in themselves. “Once you start listening to yourself, you will find all the happiness in the world.” They fondly look back to the time when a stranger walked up to them after a performance and handed them an envelope with money. A silent praise for their good work, a reminder that there will be naysayers, but focus on those who love and encourage you. Above all, keep going. So next time you’re in Mumbai, take out the time to witness their talent firsthand. They’ll surely win your heart too!