On the podium at Canvas Laugh Factory, two boys clad in cream kurta and dhoti narrate on stage animatedly how Manthara, the maid in Ramayana, convinced Kaikeyi, lord Ram’s stepmother, that her real son, Bharat, was the rightful heir of Ayodhya. After the brief lead-in, the stage is shrouded in darkness and lit up again with Kaikeyi (Ayesha Nair) admiring herself in an imaginary mirror while Manthara (Neelima Mehra) comes and poisons her mind. At this juncture, director Vishal Asrani, seated in the auditorium, instructs Nair to mellow down her performance. With just three days left for the performance, Asrani has a zillion things to finish such as getting the props, fine-tuning the sets and ensuring the actors polish their performances, he informs me during the break.
Ramayana For Kids, Asrani says, marks many firsts for him and co-director Jiji Subi. This is the first time the duo is attempting an ancient Indian epic and using kids as narrators. The idea stemmed from the lack of knowledge among kids about Ramayana. “Ramayana is synonymous with Ramanand Sagar’s television series. We wanted to break that image. So we decided to stage this musical. When you are targeting kids, you have to make things simple and interesting. Our main concern was to present Ramayana in a modern avatar without losing its essence,” he elaborates.
Asrani and Subi read six different versions of Ramayana as research material. “We realised that Kaikeyi and Ravan were not all that bad as they were made out to be. So we have tried to present them as believable characters. Also it was a herculean task to encompass the whole epic within 65 minutes. So we only took parts that would make sense to kids. As for the ones that we couldn’t do without, we incorporated them through mime so that children get a sense of the series of events,” he adds.
The four 13-year-old boys, Rishabh Shah, Kriahiv Shah, Maahir Shah and Kairav Jhaveri, are ecstatic to play the sutradhars. “This is the first time we are getting to say so many dialogues,” says Jhaveri sheepishly. Quiz them how did they memorise so many lines and Shah says, “We are studying Ramayana in the school. So it is easier for us and the whole prospect of singing, dancing and narrating is exciting.” Asrani adds, “Kids listen attentively when another child is talking. So we used them as narrators.”
While it has been exciting for the quartet, acting in the musical has been challenging for the adults. Yashraj Singh, who plays Ram, says, “I use a lot of gestures while talking in real life. So as Ram, I had to appear calm and composed on stage and hold my poise.” Unlike conventional musicals that use live music and singing, Asrani and Subi have opted for pre-recorded dialogues and music. “Actors have to rehearse a lot with this arrangement too. They have to learn their dialogues, record them with the requisite emotion, portray their characters effectively on stage while lip-synching. When you are acting in front of kids, the chances of being interrupted with squeals, cries and questions is high. So it makes sense to use pre-recorded music. We want to give kids the experience of watching a movie on stage,” Asrani signs off.
WHEN: October 13, 1 and 2:30 pm
WHERE: Canvas Laugh Factory, Palladium, Lower Parel
CALL: 6158 6158