Rohan Sabharwal recalls his time in a mental health facility. “The hospital doesn’t allow patients to go to the toilet alone for fear that they’ll self-harm. There’s this guy whose job it is to watch you take a shit. He’s very professional about it.” A dark time in the life of this aspiring comic, but also comedy gold. The 37-year-old Sabharwal and his partner Rachana Iyer, 27, started their company CraYon Impact to make space for perspectives like these. Using stand-up, improv and other performing arts, they’re trying to create a stage that is truly inclusive.
When CraYon Impact was launched, less than a year ago, its aim was not as broad. The founders, social work graduate Iyer and film-maker Sabharwal, wanted to put their skills together to help NGOs amplify their message. Boring websites and dull seminars weren’t helping anyone’s cause. So the couple came up with a business model through which they would organise clutter-busting events around a theme, using design, art and comedy. Soon they saw that it wasn’t just NGOs who needed the help; anybody attempting a social initiative, even corporates, could use it. In the past, they’ve organised a craft workshop around menstrual health with napkin brand Eco Femme, a stand-up comedy gig about sexuality and disability hosted by Aditi Mittal, and a dance class with visually impaired participants by Sandip Soparrkar.
CraYon Impact takes inclusivity very seriously. “We are sector-agnostic but we try to make every event accessible to people with disabilities,” says Iyer. They make sure their venues are wheelchair-friendly, hire sign-language interpreters and account for performers with special needs as well. They’re also professionalising the social enterprise space by setting certain standards in place: every artist or vendor who works with them gets paid in advance, for instance. Sabharwal says, “The charity model does not work because it relies on one-time donations and it’s patronising to the people you represent.”
Up next is the India tour of Sex and Sexability, a comedy show that recognises disabled people as sexual beings (tagline: It’s true, we fuck too), and Mental Heads, a poetry slam on mental illnesses. Early next year, if the crowd-funding meets targets, they’re hoping to organise Stand Up for Mental Health, where stories like the one about Sabharwal’s number 2 best friend will get an airing. He says, “I did a sketch once about trying to masturbate in the mental hospital, where the doors have no latches. People were falling off their chairs laughing. It’s like therapy.”
On Rachana: Linen dress, Bungalow 8. Leather shoes, Charles & Keith. Metal earrings and nose ring; both Al’s Clothes, Accessories and Body Piercings
On Rohan: Jersey tee, Marks & Spencer. Leather jacket, Zara. Denim camo pants, thrifted. Leather shoes, thirfted. Metal and plastic earrings, Al’s Clothes, Accessories and Body Piercings
Photograph: Bajirao Pawar; Styling: Veronna Parikh; Assisted by Nikita K. Make-up and hair: Saher Ahmed.