Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Making A Difference - Through The Arts And A Cause

Well known theatre artists, producers, directors Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal, and her son Kaizaad Kotwal run Poor-Box Productions. Most well known is The Vagina Monologues, which has been running for over 15 years. They also founded the Make-A-Difference Foundation to help raise awareness and funds to help combat violence against women from the grassroots up. Keeping the theme of this newsmagazine we wanted to feature how they make-a-difference. 
Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal & her son Kaizaad Kotwal
 Tell us about your day job
It's not a regular day job, unless it's mounting a new production, in which case it's 4-6 hour rehearsals at least 4-5 times a week and more frequent nearing the opening of the show. During fundraising, we spend at least 9-12 months working on the project.

Your entry into the social sector
The Vagina monologues Talks about bringing about an awareness of abuse towards women and trying to stop violence against them. Internationally, it has raised over50 million dollars by the playwright, Eve Ensler. She has opened a centre in the Congo where she spends a major part of the year.  Since violence against women is a major problem in India, we thought of doing something similar, though on a smaller scale considering that we are a very, very, small theatre company.

Learning and difficult moments along the way in setting up the foundation
Getting permission to set up the foundation, had its usual problems of getting the 80-G certificate, etc. Our aims and objectives had to be very clear....we work only for the empowerment of women. That is our focus.

Do you think being a celebrity makes it easier to raise awareness/funds for a cause?
As I am not a celebrity, cannot answer this question.......yes, being in the public eye it's easier to reach out and bring about awareness, but not easy to raise funds.

What have been fulfilling moments?
There have been many fulfilling moments, on and off the stage, but our work with the women for the NGO, SNEHA, in the Dharavi slums has been extremely satisfying, as well as financially helping Haseena Hussain, an blind acid attack victim from Bangalore. She now mentors other victims of acid attacks and has found a regular job. There are many others, but these are the main ones. 
 How do you ensure that your partnership with the beneficiaries is productive?
We interact on a regular basis and are part of the process of the cause. Thereby we get to know that the work done by the NGOs is credible and along the lines of our aims and objectives. We have over the years learnt that to be forthright and clear in our objectives to our beneficiaries is  of utmost important. We look hard and deep for credible people / organizations we deal with. Sometimes we have had to back off from projects when we felt this was not so.

What is the common skill you need/display when on stage /when at the foundation?
 I, personally, have found that when I get emotionally involved without  sorting things out at a mental level, things have gone a bit awry, but....we try our best to be as practical and judicious as possible. It's difficult and not easy considering the horror stories we listen to.

How do you see your cause scale up & remain sustainable?
The problem is so vast, that, sometimes one feels dejected and frustrated. But till this endemic of violence continues, we have no choice but to toil on, because as the tag line of the play goes, SILENCE=DEATH. 


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