Pune-based Jesuit cleric-cum-academic Cyril Desbruslais believes in popular theatre as a medium of public instruction. For the past 39 years, he has been scripting and producing stage plays to promote the integrated development of young people and sensitise them to the needs of the marginalised and poor through his NGO Searching and Service in Unity (SSU, estb. 1971). His latest offering Adam and Eve chronicles the journey of the first humans on earth, the temptation of Eve and its consequences.
Adam and Eve is more than a morality play. Desbruslais has placed this biblical narrative in a modern context, highlighting important messages such as respect for the environment, gender egalitarianism, and belief in God. Enacted by young people, the play is also the group’s contribution to charity with two-thirds of its proceeds donated to a Pune-based NGO. Desbruslais says that theatre is a powerful medium for transmission of positive morality, ethics and social messages. This was particularly true in the pre-television era when he wrote his first play The Impossible Dream in 1971.
“Entertainment options for youth were limited before television, pubs and the internet, which was why many youngsters experimented with drugs and alcohol. In those days, career choices were also limited and the best jobs went to engineers, doctors and management graduates or were reserved for those who passed the civil services examination. Therefore there was a strong undercurrent of frustration and anger that put middle class youth on the path of rebellion or complete isolation. I resolved to canalise the latent creativity that many of these youngsters possessed by getting them involved in theatre and associate options such as stage sets, decor, costumes, acting, music, production, writing etc,” says Desbruslais who resides in Pune’s De Nobili College campus which houses a large community of Jesuit clergy, and teaches philosophy at the in-house Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth seminary, which offers philosophy and theology degrees and certification to lay people as well as priests, nuns and members of other religious orders.
According to Desbruslais, SSU is an NGO with a difference. “We work towards unity in diversity, which means that membership is not restricted to Christians, and offer pastoral care to the less fortunate,” he says.
With more than 25 stage plays on themes as diverse as nuclear disarmament, globalisation, terrorism, capitalism and consumerism and religious dogma to his credit, Desbruslais believes that even in this contemporary age of 24x7 internet, theatre is a force for enlightening and changing mindsets, attitudes and prejudices. “Through the messages embedded in our plays, SSU is promoting out-of-the-box thinking among the young and is abating — if not removing — hatred that’s making us all such violent beings,” he says.
Huned Contractor (Pune)