The Last exit: Theatre director GS Chani succumbs to Corona

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GS Chani

By Sukant Deepak

New Delhi– Well-known theatre director from Chandigarh, GS Chani, known for his street plays, succumbed to Covid-19 on May 20. He was on ventilator for a while now.

Recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi honour and a Fulbright Scholar at Boston University College of Communication, he was the Director of Centre for Education & Voluntary Action (CEVA) in Chandigarh.

Also a filmmaker with more than 20 documentary films to his credit, the artist, a National School of Drama (NSD) graduate who went on to teach at the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), Chani, who would always be seen in his trademark colourful pagdis was one of the few theatre artists in the region who never let go of his roots — street theatre.

From his first play ‘Dafa 144’ that emerged after the Emergency to his later works, he was known for his socially relevant work revolving around contemporary issues.

Theatre director Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry adds, “His work with clowning, where he engaged with children admitted to hospitals is commendable. He was one year junior to me at the National School of Drama (NSD), and it was nice to have someone from the same region around.”

Born in Punjab in 1951, Chani who joined a technical college after B.Sc., only to quit after a year, took admission in the Indian Theatre Department at Panjab University in in 1972. It was later that he joined NSD in New Delhi. He would always credit dramatist Balwant Gargi, who started the department at PU for introducing him to the world of art, music, poetry and politics.

As Chairperson of the Chandigarh Sangeet Akademi till a few years ago, he was instrumental in exposing the city residents to some of the country’s best directors, musicians and folk artists. It would be fair to say that the Akademi’s best days were under his chairmanship as he never fell into the trap of just promoting local and regional artists if they were mediocre.

One of the few artists in the region to criticise the government openly when the latter failed to provide any relief to artists during the lockdowns, conceptual photographer Diwan Manna, President of Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi, remembers Chani not just as an accomplished artist but also as a giving human being. “He was a mentor to us. We came from rural backgrounds and had little exposure. During our art college days, when we joined his street theatre group, he made it a point to take us to art galleries in Delhi, join a film club and introduce us to major artists. His passing on is a major loss to me.” (IANS)

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