Kidding around with a classic

Updated: Jul 09, 2019, 07:35 IST | Shunashir Sen

Theatre doyen Karla Singh to direct iconic musical My Fair Lady for Raell Padamsee, with around 35 disadvantaged kids in the cast

Kidding around with a classic
Cast members including Shahriyar Atai (in black) rehearse a scene. Pic/Atul Kamble

It's quite fitting that if you place a call to thespian Raell Padamsee right now, you'll find that her caller tune is set to Audrey Hepburn singing All I Want is a Room Somewhere, the classic track from My Fair Lady. That's because her next production involves a theatrical staging of the iconic 1964 movie. Veteran director Karla Singh is helming the play, while the actors include noted names like Shahriyar Atai and Danesh Irani. But as is characteristic of Padamsee, the cast also features around 35 lesser-privileged children, selected from city-based NGOs from places like Malad and Worli that ACE, her theatre group, works with.

The idea, Padamsee says, is to use theatre as a tool to chisel life skills that the kids can later employ in whatever vocation they choose. She tells us, "We started a foundation called CREATE in 2002 and our maxim is, 'Equal opportunity for all'. So, for the longest time, we have involved such kids in all our big productions. We make sure that everybody gets exactly the same kind of training, [access to] design elements, etc. It's also important for the audience to understand that this is something that's possible, so that they in turn feel that they can do similar things in their own capacity, because everything is very marginalised in our society, unfortunately."

She adds that CREATE has a three-pronged approach to giving these children a leg-up in life. There is firstly a competition where the kids are given a certain topic that they have to interpret in a creative manner. There are also weekly workshops where the underprivileged children are given access to the same training that ACE imparts to more mainstream kids. And then there are productions of this nature, which help them translate the lessons they learn to other walks of life.

Chirag Aggarwal, the musical's choreographer, explains, "You know, all these eight-, nine-, and 10-year-olds have bodies like water. So when you teach them dance forms like waltz, they imbibe it in a holistic manner. Their body language becomes better and when they rehearse the steps for months on end, it gives them immense confidence that can benefit them in whatever profession they choose."

Karla Singh (third from right) with the female actors in costume

Singh adds that if any of the kids ever enter the corporate world, for instance, it might have been that they would have been tongue-tied in the middle of an important conference. She says, "But an experience like this helps them communicate better. They get exposed to things that are different from their normal life — be it singing, dancing or acting — which makes them stronger human beings."

It's thus a happy coincidence that the effort that ACE is making in helping these children mirrors the plot of My Fair Lady to a certain extent. The storyline is centred on phonetics professor Henry Higgins taking the protagonist, Eliza Doolittle, under his wings, helping the Cockney girl from an impoverished part of London pick up into requisite skills to assimilate with high society. There are, of course, certain tensions that threaten to sully the relationship. But its foundation rests on an earnest effort to help a disadvantaged person benefit from a new lease of life. And that, hopefully, is what the 35 children in Padamsee's production will also gain once they internalise the experience of having been a part of it.

ON July 12, 13 and 14, 7 pm
AT NCPA, Nariman Point.
CALL 66223724
COST Rs 750

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