Children’s dear drama doyen

As the curtain rises on the makeshift stage, a man clad in the colourful hues of his clown costume makes an appearance.

Published: 25th September 2022 05:35 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th September 2022 05:35 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

PUDUCHERRY: As the curtain rises on the makeshift stage, a man clad in the colourful hues of his clown costume makes an appearance. He starts acting out his range of roles – his usual routine for almost three decades. The motley crowd of children, with the percussion of thunderous applause, squeal his name with all admiration: “Velu mamaa!”

For them, Velu Saravanan, an assistant professor at the Department of Performing Arts at Pondicherry University, is their dear uncle who has made them beam when he acts. With his mastery in storytelling, this children’s dramatist has stolen many a little heart with his shows over the years.

One among the first batch of students of postgraduate performing arts at Pondicherry University, Velu’s fascination with staging plays for kids began during his time at the university in 1991. “I wrote a drama for children titled ‘Kadal Bhootham’ and acted in it. Tamil writer Indra Parthasarathy, who saw the play, told me I had the skills to entertain children, which is not an easy thing,” Velu says, affirming that it was the starting point of his artistic exploration in the coming years.

After completing his PG, Velu decided to continue as a theatre artist for children and settled in Puducherry. Starting out as an art teacher at a school in Auroville, Velu got his first real break when a senior official from the Puducherry Education Department saw one of his dramas. The official asked him to do his routine in government schools across the Union Territory but there were no funds. All his earnings were from the pennies the students would pay according to their wish, to watch the show. Velu soon started his own children’s drama troupe, which he named Aazhi (sea). 

Velu Saravanan, a theatre artiste and teacher, is fondly known as Velu maama | Express

Velu was still unsure of whether the children were really enjoying his show. There was an incident that banished that thought from his mind. “One day, I was performing at a school in Puducherry. A girl started crying when she saw my co-actor dressed like a goblin. Though her grandmother took her out, the girl watched the drama through the window. She, then, started smiling at my make-up, despite tears in her eyes. That was the moment I decided that this would be my profession,” he recalls.

Over the last three decades, Velu has staged his plays in several orphanages and homes for children with special needs, apart from government schools, free of cost. Language, too, has not been a barrier for him as he has staged dramas in Tamil, English, French, German, Hindi, Sanskrit, and Kannada. His audience grew larger over the years as he was requested to stage plays in other States and in countries like Switzerland, America, among others. 

During the 2004 tsunami, Velu played a major role in helping children recover from the trauma of losing their parents and relatives. His troupe performed in 150 villages at Cuddalore, Nagapattinam, Kanyakumari, and Chennai, with the help of UNICEF. Velu also recalls how former US President Bill Clinton visited Thazhanguda in Cuddalore at that time and saw his drama. “Clinton called my name after the play and wanted me to perform once more.” There is pride in Velu’s voice.

Several accolades have come Velu’s way as he won the Sangeetha Nataka Akademi for one of his dramas in 1993, and became the youngest director to do so. A veteran and doyen of the children’s theatre now, Velu continues to do all he can to keep children smiling.  



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