Influential Indian dramatist and theatre director Badal Sircar’s plays are known for their simple, entertaining stories that communicate social ideas and messages with a contemporary relevance. Over the years, his works have influenced filmmakers and theatre directors alike and have been adapted by theatre companies across the country. But rarely have his works been staged by children. However, this is set to change.
Kids aged between seven and 14 will stage one of Sircar’s most humourous plays, Beyond The Land Of Hattamala on June 5 at Prithvi Theatre. The youngsters are a product of the Dramabaazi workshop, which was conducted by Thespo’s Children’s Wing from May 1 to June 4 this year.
The play revolves around two thieves, Kena and Becha, who jump into a river to escape being caught and get washed up on the shores of a land where there is no concept of money. Buying and selling are alien concepts and everyone works together. How the thieves come to terms with the situation and reform out of compulsion forms the crux of the story.
Theatre actor Abhishek Saha, who has been conducting the Dramabaazi workshop for the past two years, has helmed the play. Explaining how he decided to stage it, he says, “On the last Monday of every month, a text reading session is conducted by QTP productions (the parent group of Thespo) where the works of renowned Indian as well as international playwrights are read and discussed. One of the members of the troupe had liked Beyond The Land Of Hattamala and suggested that it would make for an interesting play. Originally it was a 30-minute skit, but we decided to turn it into a 60-minute play, so that we could add more adventure and give the kids an opportunity to display their prowess.”
Saha started out by conducting warm up exercises for the kids, which was followed by some interactive theatre games that helped them work as a team. Later, he asked writer Akash Mohimen, who has penned the earlier plays of Dramabaazi too, to come in and observe the kids closely and accordingly write the characters. Mohimen says, “The idea of Dramabaazi is to introduce children to acting and theatre effortlessly. Characters are written on the basis of their behaviour so they can act naturally and are not under any kind of pressure. Also, we haven’t deleted anything from Sircar’s original work, but have added new elements.”
Once the play was written, over the next three weeks, the kids were introduced to the script through improvisation, storytelling, song writing and general discussions. After they understood the story, they started rehearsing the play.
Saha, who has worked with children earlier and trained them in performance pieces in Baroda and Ahmedabad, however, admits that this year he faced a huge challenge. Usually kids aged between nine and 14 are a part of Dramabaazi. But this was the first time seven year-olds were a part of the workshop. While one might wonder how much difference can just two years make, Saha is quick to explain, “Seven year-olds have a shorter attention span. So you have to constantly keep them entertained and can’t get into technical details. I had to be extremely patient. Earlier, at the end of each session, I would summarise what we had learnt but I found that they would lose interest. So I changed my approach and asked them to describe their experience.”
While Saha is happy with the play, he laments that they might not be able to stage it across the city since the kids will soon start resume school. But nevertheless, he hopes that Beyond The Land of Hattamala will prove to be entertaining for kids and adults alike.