Rabindranath Tagore’s works have struck a chord with us over the decades. But few people know that the Nobel Laureate was extremely close to his granddaughter Nandini. He even penned a book, Shey (who), a collection of stories for her, for which he invented ‘Shey’, a fictitious character who cannot be seen but concocts tales. This book comprises stories, which he told Nandini as she grew from nine to 16. Gillo, a children’s media group, is premiering a play, Shey-He-Shey (this is the one) based on the same work, next week at Prithvi Theatre.
Shaili Sathyu, Gillo’s artistic director, chose the play after the organisers of Rabindra Utsav (a festival that encourages modern interpretations of Tagore’s works) in Kolkata approached her. She settled for Shey after she read its English translation penned by Aparna Chaudhuri. “Aparna started translating when she was nine and completed it when she was 16, the same age group that of Nandini. I found this aspect fascinating. Also, this book has a lot of philosophy that appeals to young adults and adults without sounding didactic. Our play is targeted towards kids above 12.”
The 85-minute English production comprises five stories from the book along with other poems and paintings by the literature. Sathyu did this cross-referencing to give viewers an opportunity to see the bard’s diverse works on one platform. “In the book, Tagore has described trees as the giver of life and how they are relevant to nature. So to corroborate this point we used one of his poems and an excerpt from another story, where he had written about the plight of trees,” she says.
Sathyu started off two months ago by familiarising the cast members with Tagore’s books. They also visited art exhibitions thatshowcased his creations. To ensure that the production doesn’t become too verbose, they incorporated dance techniques such as Abhinaya and Mudra to lend an identity to Shey’s character. “
We haven’t used any props. The focus is completely on the actors and the music. I collaborated with choreographer Hamsa Moily to set the tone for the visual idiom of the play. We have used a lot of movement in the story telling, along with Tagore’s paintings as inspiration. The play is an attempt to make sense of the rhythms in his writings, music and paintings.
The English production, which has liberal doses of Bengali, opened in Kolkata last week to a good response. “We were apprehensive about how the audiences would react. But the response was good in Kolkata and Shantiniketan. We are hoping for a favourable response here. For the entire team, the process of creating this play has been a delightful journey of discovering Tagore and celebrating life.”