Watch retelling of Panchatantra through mime, clowning techniques and folk music

Aug 09, 2017, 15:05 IST | Snigdha Hasan

Watch a retelling of the age-old fables, minus all sexist references, through mime, clowning techniques and live folk music

On the banks of a gurgling river stands a jamun tree that bears the sweetest of berries. It is home to a monkey that spends his days chomping away on the delicious fruit. One afternoon, a female crocodile takes shelter beneath the tree and he showers some jamun on her. The two become friends, until the crocodile's jobless husband coaxes her into getting the monkey home, so he can taste his heart.

Four actors and two musicians will bring to life this much-loved tale from the Panchatantra, with tweaked gender roles as a physical comedy through mime, clowning techniques and live Indian folk music, this weekend. Presented by Theatreact in association with Clowns Without Borders (Sweden), the production is simply titled Panchatantra. It aims to expose children to Indian folklore, taking care to remove and suitably change all sexist and racist references. Ranga Siyar, the story of a jackal who changed colours physically and metaphorically, will also feature in the one-hour production.

Finding a niche
"It pains me to see children consume culture on YouTube and Netflix. Also, why perform a [theatrical production of] Pinocchio when our own stories are so rich?" says founder and artistic director of Theatreact, Rupesh Tillu, who has been running a project for the Swedish chapter of the non-profit for six years in India. The actor, director and independent filmmaker, who worked in Ship of Theseus and other acclaimed films, completed his masters in physical comedy from The National School of Dramatic Arts, Sweden. He has also been part of expeditions with Clowns without Borders to Moldova, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Nepal, Bhutan, Egypt as well as within India.

"As part of the project, we teach clowning techniques to sex workers' children in Kamathipura. We also bring together professionals to perform for these kids. We hold workshops in NGOs and BMC schools as well," shares Tillu, adding how such experiences aren't often considered important for children from underprivileged backgrounds. "I am from one such school, so I speak from experience."

For Panchatantra, which premiered at Summertime@Prithvi this year, actors — two of them are from National School of Drama — and musicians were roped in from across India, and the training lasted for three months. A mime master flew down from Sweden for a week to further train them. "Unfortunately, there is no investment in human capital in our country. And the authorities are to be blamed. While we understand various forms of Indian classical dance or singing, we view all theatre forms as one. There is no differentiation between children's theatre and theatre for grown-ups," laments Tillu. "We only look at traditions as culture. But culture is also created consciously."

Rupesh Tillu
Rupesh Tillu

Mumbai challenge
Tillu feels that though the city has a thriving cultural scene, it doesn't support art organically. "The biggest challenge is to find a reasonably priced rehearsal space. If I am training for a month, it isn't feasible to rent a place that charges `3,000 a day. Also, when theatre is not appreciated in its entirety, the training process starts with a lot of unlearning," he says. "But that's the beauty of it. If you dissociate yourself from the reality, how will you change it?"

ON: August 12 (7.30 pm) and 13 (3 pm)
AT: Harkat Studio, Aram Nagar Part 2, Versova, Andheri West.
ENTRY: Rs 250

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