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Paying a tribute to the Mahatma

300 children along with the best names in production, music and design, promise to make Mahatma by Raell Padamsee a mammoth theatre production

When they raise their arms, the white veils attached to their backs and wrists rise in unison. A recorded voice of a little girl croons, "I believe I can fly". Undeterred by the 'I believe' group, another set is getting their silver suits readied. While yet another is in the green room getting their make-up done. They emerge with topis, beards and moustaches so convincing that one wants to tug at them.

Pearl Tirandaz with some of the kids from various NGOs
Pearl Tirandaz with some of the kids from various NGOs 

Grand showcase
Raell Padamsee and Ace Productions are getting ready for the show, Mahatma. After all, it has been 100 years since Gandhi returned from South Africa. And, Padamsee says, "It seemed like the right time to bring Gandhi's values back, and not just as a play, but as an entire movement."

Mahatma, a musical by Raell Padamsee is exactly that: a movement. There is nothing small or humble about the production. Three hundred children from mainstream schools as well as from schools run by eight different NGOs are going to be a part of the musical as will be LED screens and unbelievable physical sets designed by Fali Unwalla. Committed to the production is gifted choreographer Pearl Tirandaz, while music is by a set of children trained by Abigail Fonseca. An interactive, 360-degree approach has been used. Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy have specially composed the National Anthem.

Tirandaz stands in her black singlet and jeans, hair tied in a severe knot, looking grim. She hollers and halts the music. Her assistant reminds the kids where the audience is. They quickly practise the movement and the music is restarted. Wings fly as the music wafts. The round is perfect. "Move to the terrace!" she yells. They head to the upper floor where they will continue practice under one of Pearl's assistants. The next group is called in.

A kid tries a somersault during rehearsals for Mahatma
A kid tries a somersault during rehearsals for Mahatma 

Sitting in a row, against the way, are three unsmiling people peering at a Mac. Associate director Craig Dequadros is looking at the next formation. In different parts of the hall small groups of kids eat, practice or take a break. Outside, peering through the main hall of the Adapt Centre, Bandra Reclamation — where the rehearsal is going on — are a handful of parents and grandparents. "You can't go in," says the lady watching avidly, adding, "Parents have to wait out."

All for one
Padamsee informs that through Project Integrate's maxim, equal opportunity for all, boys from Victoria Memorial School for the Blind are performing on the Malkhamb and singing, kids from Vatsalya Foundation, Aseema, Salaam Baalak Trust, ADAPT, Society for the Education of the Crippled (SEC), Seva Sadan and Salaam Bombay Foundation are all dancing, while girls from Seva Sadan are acting in the play. It is exam time, too, and the need to prepare for it blends with the zest for participating in Mahatma.

Some kids sit with their books and study in between practice while others share their food from home with what Padamsee's production is supplying. After a month or more of interaction, new friendships have been built across gender and privileges. "When we conceived of The Mahatma, we knew that we wanted to reach out to today's generation," says Padamsee. "We also knew that, if we were doing it, it was going to be the biggest thing the city has ever seen. And it is," she reminds us.

No child's play
How is it to work with so many kids? Tirandaz says, it is a breeze. "I find working with kids from NGOs easier than working with professional dancers," she says earnestly. "They have no attitude and they know how to work hard. One yell and they set down to rework it. They are going to perform at nothing less than the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA. They need to see themselves as professionals," she adds.

Nearly 300 school children from mainstream as well as NGOs will be a part of Mahatma. Pics/Sameer Markande
Nearly 300 school children from mainstream as well as NGOs will be a part of Mahatma. Pics/Sameer Markande 

A handful of good first-time performers will be absorbed by Ace by the end of the production. The production on the Indian freedom movement intends to bring to life and relevance the importance of the Mahatma's teachings to today's youth. "Children today are extremely distracted and seemingly disjointed," feels Padamsee.

"There's so much of negativity around us in the news, so much competitiveness and our kids are absorbing and implementing many negative habits from the west," shares Padamsee. She believes that while today's youth may have sharpened their academic records, they are unable to work out values, and life skills. It's here where the team at Ace feels that the play will be impact them by reinforcing the values that Gandhi put forth for the freedom struggle. "The scenarios are something they will relate to and hopefully carry Gandhi's ideals with them," smiles Padamsee.

Raell Padamsee
Raell Padamsee 

Preparation started months ago through an art competition. Art sheets were distributed to 30,000 children in Mumbai and renowned artists, Sunil Padwal and Arzan Khambatta, will judge the output. Practice for the play started a month in advance, initially with fun activities like theatre games that put the kids at ease and got them used to performing on stage.

Padamsee's team wanted to take the troupe across India but the logistics of travelling with 300 children would have been a feat by itself. So, in the hope to reach as many children as possible the play will be broadcast on Doordarshan.

On September 4, 7.30 pm, September 5, 4 pm and 7.30 pm, September 6, 4 pm and 7.30 pm
At Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA.
Log on to www.bookmyshow.com
Call 9773533332 for tickets

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