Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shanta Gokhale writes about Suar Chala Space Ko

A child's play with a twist

From Mumbai Mirror

Shanta Gokhale

A child’s play with a twist

Suar chala space ko is a play that gets rid of the cliches that plague children’s theatre, while emphasising contemporary issues

Shanta Gokhale

Posted On Thursday, December 30, 2010 at 02:34:38 AM

The suar in Gillo's "Suar chala space ko" is a young man with pig's ears and a mangy pullover. And though he steals tomatoes from his mistress Gulabo mausi's vegetable basket and exudes a stink to end all stinks, he has a big brave name-Bahadur Singh.

However, his infamous stink has earned him another moniker from Rinku and Ishaan, the neighbourhood children. Badbudar Singh. For this reason, the two snooty children keep him at arm's length. But Laddoo Kumar, Ishaan's pet dog, who wears dog's ears and voluminous pajamas, can't afford to be choosy about the company he keeps. As an animal in the human world, he must stick with other animals. So he takes every opportunity to cosy up to the pig and share human secrets.

We were a couple of dozen adults in a houseful of children on Sunday morning at Prithvi, watching Bahadur Singh accidentally activate a space ship and zip off with the others into space to land on a red planet. Within the short time it took for them to return to earth, two things had happened.

Bahadur Singh had been infected with an unknown virus that later infected everybody he touched, and, glory be, he had lost his stink. He was now ill but rechristened Khushbudar Singh.

In this hour-long entertainment, replete with mime, shadow play, gibberish, magic and fantasy, Bahadur Singh, Laddoo Kumar and their humans did things that made us split our sides laughing. They scared the daylights out of each other with sudden shouts, tumbled and fell, quarreled, cried, jumped about and danced.

We loved the clever song in which Rinku flattered Bahadur Singh shamelessly with the good qualities he didn't possess and Ishaan brought him down to earth with the bad qualities he did. We also loved the sound of the instruments that accompanied the singing and dancing and of course the space ship.

The plot itself jumped around quite a bit, sometimes leaving us behind. When the wonderful swathe of red cloth on the red planet began to heave wildly, I overheard a young sprite in the back asking his mother whether it was supposed to be lava. The mother said she didn't know. Later it turned out to have been an earthquake. The sprite objected-- "But no cracks appeared, so how?"

The narrative style of the play may be traced back to its origins. "Suar chala space ko" began as a story for a puppet show, written by three children attending director Shaili Sathyu's workshop. When last year's Summertime Prithvi called for children's plays, Sathyu set to work on it, aided and abetted by members of the Gillo theatre wing.

The actors improvised and strung together situations and scenes, often working without lines. Dialogue was added later. With the action in the hands of children, there was naturally a lot of fun and no preaching.

In the sixties when the children's theatre movement started in Mumbai, there were two extremes of plays. You had ghosts, fairies, witches and wizards, or you had heavy duty messages. In the 40 years that have elapsed since then, preaching to children has received a very bad press.

Naturally, in a play that is by children for children with Sathyu only guiding and giving the play its style, overt messages are out. Rinku and Ishaan happily ostracise Bahadur Singh from their group without being punished. Political correctness? What's that?

And yet, through constant hammering by parents and teachers, children do imbibe ideas of what is good and what is not. So here we have Gulabo mausi neglecting her chores because of her over addiction to television. And here, cleverly tucked into the tale is a message for today save energy.

It was sheer bliss to be a child once again with "Suar chala space ko". When we emerged from the dark of the theatre into the winter sunshine outside, we found ourselves fully recharged to face the adult world of scams, corruption, police inaction, unjust judgements and parliamentary stalemates. Sadly, it was still there.

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