Imagine King Arthur, Don Quixote, Rani of Jhansi and Joan of Arc all of them coming together on one platform singing songs and entertaining kids with their heroic acts? No, this isn’t a fancy dress competition but a musical that aims to familiarise today’s children with the rich treasure trove of history, urging them to understand the joys of childhood.
Presented by Mumbai-based theatre company The Artistes Studio, the play is a modern fairy tale. It revolves around the Sheen of Bling (Queen of witches), who rules over people with an iron hold, compelling them to buy and desire things, thereby making them materialistic.
But when a writer, Zorro, begins to question this philosophy and pens a book called Beyond Bling that remembers lost heroes like King Arthur, Don Quixote, the Rani of Jhansi and Joan of Arc, who were driven by conviction and not their love for material things, the Queen feels threatened. Her forces capture and imprison Zorro.
How his wife and son use the same heroes to liberate him and also discover their inner strength forms the crux of the story. Writer-actor Salone Mehta, who has penned the play, explains the idea stemmed from watching today’s kids becoming increasingly materialistic.
Mehta, who also teaches theatre, says, “I often saw children walking into my workshops hooked on to their mobile phones and PS3s. It’s disheartening that today kids no longer play outdoors and aren’t very keen on reading books. Instead, they prefer being glued to their gizmos and gadgets. With this play, we wanted to familiarise them with the heroes of history and make them understand how books can be their best friends.”
Mehta, along with director Yashwant Singh, also felt that this was the right time to present the play as over the past two years, their company has been staging serious productions for adults such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Death Trap and Crack.
The former wrote Beyond Bling within two weeks. While Mehta admits that penning it wasn’t tough, the main challenge was to ensure that the play is entertaining and not didactic. “As kids have smaller attention spans, we had to incorporate a lot of action and music to keep them glued to their seats. If we had used too many dialogues then we would have sounded very preachy. We wanted kids to enjoy the play.”
Singh, who has earlier helmed large-scale productions for schools, including Oliver, Man of La Mancha, Fiddler on the Roof, The King and I, and also acted with the likes of Amir Raza Hussain and Alyque Padamsee, ensured that the production had songs that would stay with kids long after the show was over. “Beyond Bling has eight songs.
They are largely western classical songs and have been used extensively to introduce the heroes and help kids understand their characters better. As the actors had to sing live we conducted workshops with them.”
Singh, however, maintains that Beyond Bling is not just for children but is also aimed at adults. “Nowadays parents lead a frenetic life due to their professional commitments. We haven’t provided any answers to them in the play but hopefully it will prompt them to think when should they draw the line with their kids and spend quality time with them.”