Education - Arts - Media - Gillo is a Mumbai based organisation working exclusively for children and young people. Our aim is to make childhood fun, yet enriching and memorable.
Currently our Theatre Repertory offers a range of activities that engage children and young people with theatre and the allied arts.
At the KALA GHODA ARTS FESTIVAL - Children's Literature Festival
David Sassoon Library Garden
Directed by SHAILI SATHYU
Performed by SHREYANS IYER, PRASAD DAGARE, SAHIL GANGURDE, HETAL VARIA, VIGHNESH SINKAR, GHANSHYAM TIWARI, AMIT BHARGAVA, AFSANA AHMED
Music by HETAL VARIA
Production team TANYA MAHAJAN, MANOJ KARKI
Produced by GILLO THEATRE REPERTORY
crocodile appears in the centre of town – no one’s sure how it’s got there but
it needs to be caught and returned to the river. Easier said than done, as
various high profile people of the town find out. The crocodile outsmarts
almost everyone who tries to catch him, but he sure was not ready for little
is a musical rendition of a relatively simple story, originally written in fun,
Yes, the title of this
essay may sound a bit preposterous! But before I continue, I would like to say
that this project is more for the individual growth of each artist involved in
the production, rather than some larger service to society or reference to the
politics of the arts.
For a few years now I
have been thinking about what it means to be an ‘urban’ theatre practitioner.
One is bombarded with accusations from within and without, regarding one’s
identity, background, aesthetic core, training and traditions. Stuck between an
ancient tradition and international explorations in performance, we have
conditioned ourselves to look at expression and forms in tight-jacketed boxes
(or genres). In India especially there is the romanticism of the folk,
obsessing with the idea of tradition and not its politics, fossilising art
forms against their grain.
In this background, we as
a company creating performances for young audiences have been facing questions
when it comes to the forms we ‘should’ use. As artistic director I was keen to
explore the idea of using so-called folk forms with contemporary or newly
written stories (definitely not related to ‘save the environment’ or
‘anti-AIDS’ or any other such campaigns). It would be an attempt to use a
framework in which the folk forms would be used not just for their ‘museum
value’ but for their timeless structures, interactive format and ability to
‘connect’ with the folk, the audience – elements that make these forms popular,
accessible and ‘of the folk’.
With this thought we have
planned six performances for young audiences between 5 years and 14 years. Each
performance will be 30 to 40 min and based on published stories written in the
last 20 years by Indian authors. We feel children will be open and receptive to
new stories using old forms.
This short performances project is intended to bring
together different forms of performance and use these as a tool to tell our
stories. But the choice of forms also depends on which guest artists we
collaborate with, the traditional form they are well versed in and what they
want to share with artists of our repertory.
of being performances for the formal stage, these will be designed as
stand-alone shows that can be performed literally anywhere, whether it is in
schools, activity centres, libraries, bookstores, homes, community spaces,
parks, gardens and other spaces. There shall be no requirement for a formal
stage or the paraphernalia that comes with it. (And we continue to do other longer performances at
more formal theatre spaces.) The design of the productions shall be flexible and
shall focus more on the performance form and text.
story shall be performed using inspiration from performance and visual art
forms from different parts of India. There shall also be a strong element of
developing a visual aesthetic that is complimentary to the performance form and
at the same time stimulating and interactive for children.
want the performances to not only tell a story but also expose children to a
performance idiom and an aesthetic that they may not normally engage with. But
the aim is not to ‘teach’ children about the art forms. It is to bring in a
certain body language in the performers, a narrative style and a manner of
dialogue delivery rooted in traditional and folk forms.
aspect of this project is that each performance shall be made accessible for
children with hearing impairment or visual impairment. For example, the
performances shall be re-worked to include sign language and more movement for
the hearing impaired audience. For a blind audience we shall include more
sounds, songs and also add touch-based activities related to props and costumes
of the play. Research and theatre lab processes shall be done in collaboration
with institutions and experts working with children with special needs.
Part one - Nautanki
Dr. Devendra Sharma giving a demonstration
The journey of our first play Hanuman Ki Ramayan
started not with the text, but with a workshop on nautanki in Feb 2012. Dr.
Devendra Sharma happened to be in India this year (he teaches at the University
of California, Fresno, USA) and I heard that he had done a workshop production
with students at the FTII. So I asked him if he would like to conduct a
workshop for artists of Gillo and he said yes. It was an intense 2-day workshop
which included lectures, demonstrations and training. All artists responded
very enthusiastically and I could see that the engagement had sparked something
Actors learning traditional nautanki
The 2-day workshop was an
eye-opener for most of us and it also inspired us to start working on a
performance using this style. We were very clear that we did not want to
re-perform or re-create any of the old nautankis as they are for adults and not
for children and young people – our target audience. So we set about looking
for stories that could be adapted into nautanki (swaang-geet).
Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik, author of ‘Hanuman
I suggested to Dr. Sharma to write and direct a short
play in nautanki, based on a story. Out of 3 stories he selected Hanuman Ki Ramayan by Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik,
published by Tulika Books. Dr. Sharma had never written or directed a nautanki
especially for children. So he was quite excited about the collaboration. But
when he went back home to Delhi, his father Pt. Ram Dayal Sharma (a well-known
exponent of nautanki) was so touched by the story that he decided to write the
script himself. I think that has been a boon for us because he brings so much
experience to the whole production and has used a range of verses and
compositions, capturing the essence of nautanki in this short 40 minute piece!
Gillo team with Dr. Devendra Sharma, Dr.
Devdutt Pattanaik, Pt. Ram Dayal Sharma and Shama Zaidi
The training and rehearsals were structured by Dr.
Sharma and as Artistic Director I would observe and give feedback as and when I
felt was necessary. My role was more as a pedagogue making connections between
the performance and the perspective of a young audience. The entire rehearsal
process lasted for 12 days and over the last 3 days we called some children to watch
rehearsals. This completely changed the body language of the performers and the
director. Now the rehearsal performance had the context of a live audience and
helped a lot in shaping the final performance.
Valmik (Sharvari Deshpande) and Narad
(Harshad Tambe) at a platform performance at Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai
The visual design was more challenging because we were
working with characters like Hanuman, Narad and other gods and
goddesses. There is no dearth of traditional ways of representing these
characters, whether by way of masks, costumes or face painting. Yet, we chose
to give all performers similar generic costumes - dhoti and baagalbandi (type
of kurta). And Hanuman does not
have a monkey face or a tail. Narad does not have a mukut or jewels. And so on.
We also used male and female performers irrespective
of the character. So, we have Sharvari Deshpande playing Valmiki and Narad has been played
by male (Harshad Tambe and Ghanshyam Tiwari) and female (Vinati Makijany) artists.
Gender of the performer was not a concern while casting for a role. The
performance was of utmost importance, especially the singing talent.
Apart from the singing, the aspect of improvisation is
very important and integral to nautanki. But I asked the performers and the
director to refrain from too much add-lib and improvisation. This was
deliberately so because I wanted to keep the crispness of the written text and
also ensure that the performers focused on the new form they have just learnt.
I didn’t want them to get distracted or carried away. Each form has its own
grammar of improvisation and I feel as a company we don’t have enough
understanding to improvise in nautanki. It would only land up being a
caricature and I did not want that to happen. Sometimes things are better just
as they are. Adding things need not necessarily improve a performance.
A show in the garden of an apartment
complex in Mumbai
Over the past year we have
performed Hanuman Ki Ramayan in a range of spaces like courtyards, living rooms
in homes, gardens, an indoor badminton court and schools. The audience has
ranged from young children to senior citizens and the play has moved each one
in a different way. Parents were happy to share this experience with their
children. Adults were moved by the sacrifice of Hanuman, while children have
been enthralled by the antics of Narad. Sometimes we have seen adults and
grandparents weep through the play, while children have been laughing away at
the actions and interactions between characters. The contrasting responses have
been most humbling for us as performers.
Riyaz (rehearsal) before a show
Looking back, this experience has been most enriching for each and every
person in the company, even those who are not in the production. The form has
given us the space and opportunity to explore our own self as artists and
extend beyond our supposed realm. Artists have definitely raised their
performing skills through the process and feel they are doing something they
had not thought themselves capable of. Do remember that most of them have no
singing background and those who do, have a different schooling in music.
Nautanki requires a different singing quality and each one has had to extend
themselves in aspects like pitch, diction, acting with singing, etc. The
operatic nature of the form has been challenging and inspiring at the same
time. It has instilled belief in the artists that they can explore and go
beyond. And they are now more eager to learn new things.
This entire journey seems
like an experiment, not in the form but more an experiment on the artists.Swaang-geet has helped us extend ourselves as
performers and understand the unique grammar of an operatic form. Words in a
song and words in operatic verse work so very differently. It would probably
have taken us years to realise this, had it not been for this engagement with
nautanki. I am sure this will influence our approach to text, especially verse.
Our young audience
have been a secondary audience during nautanki performances (as well as most
traditional performance forms in India). In our play children become the
primary audience and adults ‘tag-along’. It is our sincere effort to share with
urban audiences the ‘ras’ of
theatre without any labels. For us it is as contemporary as any other
performance form. Not folk or traditional or fossilised, but alive and
vibrant... something with huge value to us as performers and our audience as
HANUMAN KI RAMAYAN
Hindi Swang-Nautanki / 40 min
For children and adults
Original Author - Dr.
Nautanki Adaptation &
Music - Pt. Ram Dayal Sharma
Direction & Hindi
Translation – Dr. Devendra Sharma
Valmiki has barely put
his pen down after completing his magnificent creation, the epic Ramayan, when he realises he has competition. The sage
Narad tells him that there is a better Ramayan, written by Hanuman. Valmiki is
devastated! And when Hanuman sees Valmiki so upset, what does he do?
Hanuman Ki Ramayan is
based on a short story by Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik, published by Tulika Books. In
this specially commissioned piece we have adapted the story in nautanki form (swaangeet).
It is a part of our series of short plays for young audiences, using various
What is ‘Nautanki’?
performances are operas (dramatic works set to music)
based on popular folk themes from tales of romance and valour, mythology, or
biographies of local heroes.
Nautanki’s origins lie in ancient Indian performance traditions like Saangeet or Swang, as well asother performance traditions like Bhagat and Raasleela of Mathura and Vrindavan in Uttar
Pradesh, and Khayal of Rajasthan.
Nautanki reached its pinnacle in the early 20th century when
numerous Nautanki troupes, known as mandalis came into existence.
Nautanki mandalis were also called akharas becausethis form of singing
requires a lot of physical power and full-throated singing in high pitches.
There was a sport-like rivalry among various Nautanki mandalis to out-perform each other. The Nautankis
staged by these mandalis or akharas became the main source of
entertainment in the towns and villages of Northern India, and remained so
until the coming of television and cinema.
pleasure of Nautanki lies in the intense melodic exchanges between the
performers. Performances are often punctuated
with individual songs, dances and skits, which serve as breaks and comic relief
performances can take place in any open space
available in or around a village that can accommodate audiences in hundreds or
thousands. Sometimes this space is made available by the village chaupal;
at other times the playground of the local school becomes the performance site.
Traditional Nautankis usually start late at night, often around 10 p.m.
or so, and go on all night until sunrise!
Nautanki still holds a strong influence over people’s imagination in
northern parts of India, and even after the spread of mass media like TV and
radio, a crowd of 10,000 to 15,000 shows up for a Nautanki performance.
Dr. Devendra Sharma
 A is a
traditional operatic form of performance from India
which gave birth to nautanki as we know it today
 Narad is a sage who prominently features in texts like the Ramayan