Educate your children about Munshi Premchand through an interactive performance

18 April,2024 07:38 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Devashish Kamble

A dastangoi for children brings to life one of Munshi Premchand’s most notable stories through an interactive performance

Pooja Jain and Meher Gehi perform in traditional dastangoi attire

Writer Munshi Premchand penned Idgah, a short story about a young Hamid's tryst with peer pressure, ridicule, and bullying in the 1930s; long before the spotlight was on conversations around children's mental health. For years, the short story has lived on in the Hindi curriculum textbooks in schools; briefly memorised, rewritten on answer sheets, and soon forgotten, year after year. Grooming Babies, a Mumbai-based enterprise working to contemprise Indian heritage for children, aims to give Idgah a new lease of life through a dastangoi performance titled Eidgah this weekend.

While the 13th century art form and the writer might seem separated by eras, styles and geographies, director Veena Manoj believes that they have more in common than one may think. "We were searching for an art form that will do justice to this beautiful story; since Premchand wrote in Hindi and Urdu, and the dastangoi form of storytelling also has roots in Urdu storytelling, we chose to adapt it for a dastangoi. A dying art form in itself, we felt this would be an apt way to keep it alive in the hearts and minds of children," she shares.

The set is adorned with miniature dolls to make it appear like a mela

To keep something alive in a child's mind, or even have the privilege of a child's attention, you need more than a simple recital. Manoj seems to know it well. To make it more appealing to children, the stage is adorned with a mela-like charm, replicating the rural setting of the original story. "A handcrafted giant-wheel replica lights up and moves as soon as the characters in the story reach the mela. The sudden movement intrigues the children, almost always. We have also put together a small village set-up with mud toys to give a visual reference to children," Manoj informs us.


Interestingly, the dastangoi will be performed in simple English and Hindi, a departure from the academic Hindi coloured in poetic metaphors that marks Premchand's works. "We wanted to make the story appealing to modern city kids while retaining the spirit of Premchand's writings. The essence of the dastangoi format is that the story is told in a rhythmic verse, with a sit-down style, and dramatised through voice and body movement. We have also tried our best to retain that," the director adds. We learn that the story narration is blended in such a way that even if the audience does not understand any one of the languages, one can still follow the story.

Children interact with the duo at a previous performance

Bringing this intricately planned performance to life will be actors and storytellers Meher Gehi and Dr Pooja Jain. For Gehi, the key to leaving a lasting memory in the children's minds lies in showing, not telling. "Values from the story such as selflessness, empathy, and delayed gratification are difficult to inculcate through academic reading. When you present a story through a performance, you stimulate multiple senses in the children. It is this multi-sensory experience that remains etched in their minds," Gehi notes.

Veena Manoj

To that end, the hour-long performance is sprinkled with short interactions with the audience. "We ask them simple questions to ponder upon such as how they would react to a dilemma the protagonist is facing," the actor reveals, adding that sometimes the excitement gets out of hand and leads to unforeseen interruptions in the performance. In what seems like a learning right out of a Premchand story, Gehi shares, "In moments like these, we remind them that the fun can only continue if they allow the story to unfold. We ask them to wait for their turn patiently. Surprisingly, they understand, and calm down immediately."

On: April 20; 5 pm
At: Recreate Spaces Studio, Mohid Heights, RTO Road, Andheri West.
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Entry: Rs 499

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