The primary objective of the Laboratory of Smiles has always been of exploring and discovering one’s self and being able to express through the medium of the arts. Back in 2009, we decided to extend the medium to photography and videography. After a month’s workshop in the West Bank in Palestine, we moved our photography workshop to Chimbel, one of the largest slums in Goa.
Our workshop at Chimbel happened over two years, 2009 and 2010, and it has been 5 years since we’ve gone back. Our 10 year celebration of Laboratory of Smiles this year urged us to go back to Chimbel to trace all our little photographers to see how they were doing.
We were hoping we’d find at least some of them but Chimbel surprised us once again. When we arrived, there was only one (who was anything but little!) waiting for us, but after a few hops from one door to the other, and several whatsapp messages, ALL 12 photographers had magically appeared. The tiniest had become the tallest and the naughtiest now stood in a corner very shy.
We chatted a while getting to know what they all were doing. Most of the them were in college now and a few were employed. It took just a couple of minutes to break the ice between the boys and the girls and soon they were back being their old silly selves!
Stories were exchanged and our memories refreshed. But what was most exciting was that every single child still had their photo albums from the workshop safely stored. Some, even had the point-and-shoot camera we had given them…and it STILL WORKED!
Here’s a THEN and NOW series of our photographers. It was such fun doing this!
Chimbel is a very special place. For over 30 years, migrants from all over the country, irrespective of caste or religion, have walked into Chimbel to find themselves a home. (Not to mention, this is the largest vote bank Goa has!) Like in every community, this slum also has its own problems of ill-hygiene, alcoholics and violence but amidst all the squalor what stands out are the open doors and broad smiles that welcome you when you pass by.
Altaf, now 20 years old, in his photo exhibition 6 years ago had described beautifully the true essence of what Chimbel was about. This is how he saw Chimbel:
“Chimbel has many fields. In one field Christians are buried. In one field garbage is collected. In another field Muslims say their prayers and in another they are buried when they die. There is a field where they burn Hindus and there is also one field where children play. Chimbel is beautiful.”
Let’s begin by declaring that putting up a show in Goa is NOT an easy task. To add to that, we have THREE shows to put up. Calangute, our first venue, took place on 29th January and saw an audience of more than 600. It was wonderful but we had never imagined it to be half as beautiful when we arrived at 8am that morning.
The parking lot where the performance was to be held was full of buses parked and garbage EVERYWHERE. The aroma of stale urine filled the morning air and we had to be careful while walking as the ground was full of broken glass. In 6 hours, 90 children would arrive here ready to change into costumes and perform. How? We didn’t know.
After continuous phone calls to various individuals things started falling in place and we were ready to receive the children. All stress turned into joy when we saw 90 pairs of excited eyes waiting to show off their skills.
Here’s a little peek into the beauty of backstage.
Photos from the show coming up soon. Now, we’ve got to run for our second performance tonight at Panjim. We’ve already got calls about some other event scaffolding being put up where our stage is supposed to be. *sigh* Here we go again!
Yesterday was the press conference that invited the media to let them know about 10 years of Laboratory of Smiles in India. Maruti, who has been with us since 2006 spoke beautifully about his journey from then to now and Vishal, this year’s little protagonist, shared his experience of feeling like a hero.
Tomorrow is the first show of JOURNEYS at Calangute, taxi stand, 7pm. We’ve given the actors a break today to relax and rest. Tomorrow is going to be a loooooooong day. All we’d like to see tomorrow is a big crowd and many many smiles. That’s the entire group – 90 children and 6 of us.
This evening is our technical rehearsal and the weekend passed by talking to one vendor after another to get our light and sound requirements. No one knows what a PROFILE light is here and they all love the horrendous LED lights. To add to that, everyone in Goa switches off between 1pm and 5pm. So if you’ve had a conversation with someone at 12:45 and asked them to call you back with details of what they have…you can go get a massage, a swim in the sea and watch a movie before they call you back. That’s how the GOA STANDARD TIME works.
After 10 years of working in Goa and facing technical mess-ups every single year, all we can do is spend some time praying and meditating before we go to set up. Until then, here’s a glimpse of our practise sessions from the past week. Stay tuned!
We’re busy preparing for the final shows. Be back soon with more updates from workshops and prep-time. Love and smiles to all!
Had a long meeting with the school last evening to organise details for our shows. Venues and dates have been confirmed! 29th January in Calangute, 2nd February in Panjim and 5th February in Margao. Much excitement has creeped in but now back to the boring work of getting costs and budgeting everything.
Here’s a little quick video about what’s been cooking at the school. Enjoy and stay tuned!