On 26th November, 2019, India’s leading performer and activist, Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal was felicitated with the prestigious “Karmaveer Puruskar Mahartna” in New Delhi, as part of a REX and UN joint inititaive. Adding to the special nature of the award and occasion, Mody-Kotwal’s son, Dr. Kaizaad Kotwal, was also awarded the same award. The mother-son duo received this honour for their great contribution to women’s empowerment and in their work towards combatting violence against women and girls.
The Make-A-Difference Foundation was established in 2008, by the mother-son team, dedicated to the cause of women’s empowerment and particularly the cause of helping battered and abused women, across all strata, irrespective of religion, caste and creed to find a way out of violence and stay free of violence. The Foundation works at every strata of society with a variety of projects and program in urban schools and colleges, alongside economically disenfranchised women in the ‘bastis’ of Mumbai.
Their foundation has done ground-breaking work in the bastis of Mumbai, including Dharavi\, one of the largest settlements of its kind in the world. The Make-A-Difference Foundation has been created to raise awareness for and funds towards ending violence against women and children. Their work has impacted individuals, communities and organizations across India.
Mahabanoo and Kaizaad’s journey into this world of activism was a direct result of them producing and directing the global, theatrical phenomenon “The Vagina Monologues” by Eve Ensler. Mahabanoo and Kaizaad co-directed the play and Mahabanoo also stars in it. The play is currently in its 17th year of shows all across India having also done a few shows in Sri Lanka. The Hindi version of the show has been playing since 2007. Mahabanoo is set to open its Gujarati version early in 2020.
Through The Make-A-Difference Foundation Mahabanoo and Kaizaad have collaborated with luminaries including Eve Ensler, Oscar-winning actors – Jane Fonda and Marisa Tomei, and Bollywood personalities and artists – Farhan Akhtar, Zoya Akhtar, Imran Khan, Loveleen Tandan, Chitrangada Singh, Mansi Scott, Suchitra Pillai, Sid Makkar, Ratna Pathak Shah, Naseeruddin Shah, Soni Razdan, Usha Uthup and others. Mahabanoo and Kaizaad harness the power of celebrities and change-makers to help widen the impact of their work and messaging that violence against women and girls has to end.
The work is a powerful example of the use of the arts to bring about social change, in their case the empowerment of women and safety at all levels and places for women and girls everywhere.
Recently Mahabanoo has started a group called ‘The Empathy Meeting’, where women from across Mumbai, from all walks of life and carrying socio-economic strata, meet once a month to tell their stories and find support for their problems and areas of concern. Mahabanoo has given the group the tag line: “Share, Support, Survive”. There are absolutely no charges or fees to joining or belonging to the group.
In August 2019, Mahabanoo directed 11 American women (all non-actors) in “The Vagina Monologues” to raise funds for three charities – Rape Response, Centrepoint and Adult Literacy, all of which empower women and work towards creating a safer world for women.
A social justice advocate working diligently for women’s empowerment in ending violence against women globally, Mahabanoo was chosen by Femina Magazine as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in India in 2007. Human rights activist and author Zerbanoo Gifford, in her book Secrets of the World’s Inspirational Women, has featured Mahabanoo as one of the 200 Most Inspirational Women from around the World.
Mahabanoo has received numerous awards and honours in India and across the world, for her untiring efforts. In 2018, she received the inaugural ‘HER’ and ‘WOW’ (Women of Wonder) Awards for exemplary women achievers in various fields. In 2011, she received the prestigious Karmaveer Puraskar award, also from a REX and UN initiative.
As the owner of Poor-Box Productions, one of India’s premiere theatre companies, Mahabanoo has produced, directed and starred in some of India’s most critically acclaimed works and the longest running shows in English and Hindi including Shirley Valentine, Art, (W)Hole In The Head! and now in its seventeenth year in India, The Vagina Monologues (in Hindi and English). Mahabanoo is also an actor, director and producer in film, television, theatre and radio, with over 70 national and global credits to her name.
Kaizaad, for the past 20 years, working in the arena of ending violence against women and girls, and helping to raise funds and awareness about this global pandemic received the prestigious Karmaveer Chakra Award in 2012 and then the Verghese Kurian Karmaveer Puraskar in 2014 for his work in the arena of women and social justice. Both these were given to him by the same REX and UN initiative as his recent Maharatna Award.
Kaizaad is an artist and educator (theatre, film & media-studies) having spent 22 years in the U.S. before returning to India in 2009. He is an Emmy Award-winning art director and the recipient of several teaching awards, grants and distinctions in the U.S. including 2 prestigious Pew Fellowships for his work on diversity, and the use of the arts in dealing with issues of diversity, inclusion and more open societies. From The Ohio State University he has a doctorate in new media and technology in art, film and theatre, and a Master’s in feminist and post-colonial theatre. He has a bachelor’s in Economics, Art and Theatre (the first triple major from his alma mater Wabash College).
He has conducted innumerable workshops for schools, colleges, corporates and other organizations in the areas of gender, inclusion and diversity in every way. He is also a well-respected speaker on these issues. Kaizaad is currently working on projects with youth about a new kind of leadership for the future in arenas as diverse as business and industry to health and education.
He is a producer, actor, director, writer, and designer with over 160 credits to his name in film, theatre and TV in India and abroad. Some of his most well-known films include the multiple Oscar-winner Traffic, Simpatico, The Letters, Khoobsurat, Inkaar, Airlift, Jazbaa, Raees, Udta Punjab, Basmati Blues, and Robot 2.0 amongst many others.