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Veteran actors bring Vikram Seth's poetry about animal kingdom to life

Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah in Beastly Tales
Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah in Beastly Tales

In Bingle Valley broad and green/ Where neither hut nor field is seen.../ An elephant and tragopan/ Discussed their fellow creature, man.

When Vikram Seth weaves a verse around an animal fable, it's not just for children. It brings delight to young and adult readers alike. Add to it a layer of theatrical expertise and you get a spoken word performance that's hard to come by. These lines from The Elephant and The Tragopan, along with other poems from Seth's Beastly Tales from Here and There, will be recited by theatre veterans Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah, Heeba Shah and Kenneth Desai. A Motley theatre production, Beastly Tales also includes dramatised readings of American writer James Thurber's stories.

Heeba Shah
Heeba Shah

Originally performed in the cultural hub of the South Bank, London, the production is in its third year, and has been well-received both within and outside India.

"Naseer is a big fan of James Thurber and he put it all together," shares Ratna, adding, "While the poems are substantial, Thurber's stories are delicious little morsels of humour, and they work together beautifully."

Desai, who has been associated with Motley since 1981, shares that the readings work on two fronts. "The poems and stories are appropriate in today's times. The Elephant and The Tragopan, for example, concerns the environment," he says, adding that the production doesn't involve costumes or elaborate sets. "It's lovely to evoke a picture with just words."

Kenneth Desai
Kenneth Desai

When asked how the performance works for both adults and children, Pathak-Shah replies, "Humans react well to poetry. I enjoy listening to beautiful words spoken well. Unfortunately, people don't have much opportunity to listen. We do have open mics but they are more improvisational and ad hoc."

Both she and Desai feel they don't see as many children in the audience as they'd like to. "If parents feel that live entertainment is not for kids, it is such a pity because some of these poems are better understood and appreciated by children," she rues. Adds Desai, "We often see that the kids who do come along sit so attentively for these readings. It's like modern-day Panchatantra."

ON: June 29 and 30, 7.30 pm 
AT: The Black Box, G5A, Laxmi Mills Estate, Mahalaxmi.
LOG ON TO: bookmyshow.com
ENTRY: Rs 500

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