Theatre veteran Makrand Deshpande and his troupe of actors are rehearsing for their new production Time Boy at Prithvi Theatre, Juhu on a Wednesday afternoon. The play is about a seven year-old boy, Murli, (Hidayat Sami) who is curious to know what he will turn out to be once he grows up. So, he decides to fight time by converting his washing machine into a time machine and making a quick trip to the future.
As I enter the venue, the area is partially lit. Deshpande takes his position in the third row in the centre of the auditorium to see the proceedings. He calls out to his cast members, who are gearing up backstage, and asks them if they are ready. Soon, the lights fade out and the auditorium is shrouded in darkness.
The play begins with a scene where a lone mattress is strewn across the floor. You hear Murli’s mother, Jayanti, (Nivedita Pohankar, who has also penned the play) prodding her son to wake up, as it’s time for school. Murli gets up, finishes his daily ablutions in a jiffy and introduces himself to the audience. He says, “Time moves too slowly for me. I wonder why I have to go to school. Every day I ask myself where will I be, who will I be, once I grow up.”
Dressed in a powder blue shirt, navy blue shorts and a matching tie, Sami is a picture of innocence as Murli. Despite his huge physique, it’s easy to imagine him as the curious seven year-old, thanks to the innocence he injects into the role. Sami, who has acted in children’s plays earlier and also helmed one (Peter Pan) last year, admits that this has been his most challenging role till date. “I have never played a kid before. I realised that given my tall, burly physique, I had to include curiosity and innocence to make my character believable. I also worked on my body language.”
Deshpande says that he deliberately employed the Gripps format (a German model of theatre for children performed by adults) for Time Boy as he wanted to put the characters of the children in the spotlight, without getting overpowered, physically, by larger adults on stage.
While Pohankar, who is younger and shorter than Sami, plays his mother, her younger sister Aditi, a svelte, chirpy 20-something, portrays the daughter of a Punjabi fashionista Mandip (played by Amruta Sant). The production also has minimal sets, comprising just four benches. “If the stage is too cluttered, then kids get disinterested and don’t concentrate on the dialogues,” he explains.
Deshpande, who usually writes his own plays, is enthused about working with Pohankar for the second time after the duo collaborated on What A Lota! He says, “I loved the play’s concept, as it addresses questions that every child has. Also today’s kids are knowledgeable, so we wanted to respect their intelligence by incorporating issues such as global warming and politics in a simplistic way.”
Pohankar says that she got the idea for the play from her own childhood. “I’m a science buff. As a kid I would always plague my mother with questions. So I thought it would make for an interesting story.” The erstwhile copywriter interacted with children to understand their psychology and ensure that the play was informative yet not overtly didactic or simplistic. She admits that though this is the first time she will be seen on stage, the process hasn’t been difficult. “Makrand lets your personality seep through the character and only finetunes your performance. So it helps you to be a natural on stage.”
A fact clearly validated as she plays Murli’s Bengali mother with the right accent, mannerisms and a natural ease on stage. Time Boy premieres on May 20 at 11 am at Prithvi Theatre