WHILE waking up to how many lost their lives to Coronavirus has been a norm for last few weeks, Thursday morning came as a jolt with the news of the death of famous Chandigarh-based theatreperson Gurcharan Singh Chani due to Covid-19.
A National School of Drama alumnus, he was one jovial gentleman known for his colourful turbans, as he along with his team spread cheer in children’s wards in hospitals, regaling little patients with his act.
The director of Centre for Education & Voluntary Action (CEVA), Chani was a Fulbright scholar at Boston University College of Communication. He was a recipient of Sangeet Natak Akademi award for community theatre. Right from his first play Dafa 144 to Zindagi Retire Nahi Hoti to Rocket Ho Ya Bomb, his has been a theatre of the people, for the people and by the people. Chani has to his credit several telefilms, including the acclaimed Tuttu and over two dozen documentaries.
Eminent theatre person Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry goes down the memory lane to recollect how seeing a turbaned young man at NSD campus warmed her heart. “He was a year junior. It was so heartening to see a ‘sardar’ on campus, as I was the only so-called Punjabi from Amritsar.” She adds on a sad note, “One cannot even go to the funerals due to Covid and that is terrible.”
Chowdhry calls Chani a significant part of city’s cultural landscape, “His clowning brought so much happiness to patients in children’s ward — young children were so happy to see a clown in the ward. He was a friend, a colleague and always there when I needed help in maintaining theatre accounts. It’s a loss in these times of losses. Twitter, Facebook have turned obituaries in today’s time.”
Musician-actor Kamal Tewari says, “Our friendship goes back to Patiala even before we moved to Chandigarh. We worked together over the years. For one there wasn’t a more passionate man than him in our town.” Tewari recalls how when they worked together Chani would become one with his work. “Not only was he passionate about theatre, how lovingly he taught was fabulous too. His work spoke to people — be it his plays or films. When he would do street theatre in Sector-17, the whole crowd would be pulled in by his act.” As much for his films and plays, Tewari gives credit to Chani for serving Sangeet Natak Akademi Chandigarh and Delhi.
Zest for life
“Rangla Sardar tur gaya (Colourful Sardar left),” posted theatre director Sahib Singh on social media. In deep sorrow he is, for he has lost the man with whom he could joke and discuss philosophy with the same zest. “Chani sir was a man who gave people life – he would tell a silly joke, hug tightly, smile or do anything that would bring a smile to another person’s face. And on the other side, discuss life and philosophy in depth. I was very new in the field when I had the opportunity to witness both his jovial and intellectual side. At his age and stage who goes to hospitals doing clown antics to bring a smile to children’s faces?” Singh says Chani would always stay in his life, “As a man who never depended on any actors, auditorium or audience, bus kahin bhi dafli uthayi and theatre shuru…”