It has become part of folklore in Chennai how two young college girls rescued a mentally unstable woman from a bus stop while all those who stood around looked on. That announced the beginning of a long journey for those two girls. As organisations and hospitals closed their doors on the woman, the girls decided to start a home.
That was how The Banyan was born to shelter mentally unstable women abandoned on the streets (like a banyan tree).
The girls are no longer teenagers. And they are not alone. Fourteen years have passed since Vandana and Vaishnavi rescued the woman. From a small house, The Banyan has moved to a large building, thanks to many a helpful hand. It now houses about 350 women. It has grown like a banyan tree.
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Five years ago, The Banyan came up with a show, Netru Indru Naalai (yesterday, today and tomorrow), to raise funds. The second event was in 2002. And now it's time for the third Netru Indru Naalai.
"As some of us were brainstorming about ideas to raise funds, one of the volunteers thought something like this on cinema would be interesting. We decided to have it as a brand name," Vandana says about the initiation of the concept.
Other than the film-based televised show, Banyan has another yearly fund-raiser, a show of classical music and dance featuring classical music stalwarts like tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pandit Hari Prasad Chowrasia, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan et al.
In the first year, Netru Indru Naale was a general show while in the second, it was more specific, showcasing works of Kamal Haasan, S P Balasubramaniam and Yesudas.
This year, as Vandana and Vaishanvi approached veteran director Mani Ratnam for help, he agreed to organise the show.
"From concept to sets to costumes, he has taken complete charge. We are grateful to him for that. His involvement has been amazing. From day one, he is carrying the whole thing on his shoulders with very little input from The Banyan. His commitment to the event and the cause are incredible," Vandana says.
A R Rehman has composed the music for the show this year. Almost all the young stars from the Tamil film industry --including Prashanth, Vineet and Sandhya, to name a few -- are a part of the show. From Bollywood, Vivek Oberoi, Shilpa Shetty and Abhishek Bachchan are participating. A, Oberoi and Shetty will be grooving to the the A R Rahman composition Chhaiya Chhaiya, from Ratnam's first Hindi film, Dil Se.
The show, a musical on the yesterday, will focus on the today and tomorrow of Tamil cinema.
"When Vandana approached me with the idea, I agreed mainly because I was impressed with their work. They started The Banyan when they were in college and they have devoted their lives to the cause. When they can do that at such a young age, I thought I should help them in whatever way I can. We always work for money but when you do something for The Banyan, you feel so good," says Ratnam.
Sabu Cyril (sets), Vasanth (creation) and Rajeev Menon (lighting), kala (choreography) are helping Mani Ratnam execute the idea.
More than 20 sets will be changed in the stage show. When Ratnam asked Cyril to design the sets, he "jumped at the idea."
The noted art director said, "The fact that I will be helping raise money for those who need help from society warms my heart. That is why I decided to work although I was not free. Whatever work I do for a film, I have done for this show."