Summer vacations typically see children’s plays take centre stage, literally. This year, however, their popularity has been unprecedented. So even at the fag end of the vacations, there are five plays being staged across Mumbai.
Theatre director Jaimini Pathak reckons that the potential of these plays has only now been fully realised. “We started doing children’s plays around seven years ago, but it’s only now that we’ve managed to tap into this huge audience.” His English play, Kachra Tales, is a form of reality meets fantasy, made famous by the likes of Lewis Caroll and Sukumar Ray.
When your audience comprises children, you need to be very innovative with the content. In his Hindi play Quixotic Wonderland, therefore, director Bijon Mondal has combined two classics: Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Carrol’s Alice In Wonderland.
In Mondal’s story, the Queen of Wonderland has started a reign of evil in alliance with the monster Jabberwocky, and Alice and Don Quixote must restore peace. Mondal says that the production quality of these plays has greatly improved: “Directors now focus on all aspects of a play — drama, elaborate costumes, a solid script etc. Children’s plays are being taken more seriously now.”
Sumeet Vyas, who is co-directing the play Jungle Book with his wife, says that even among children’s plays, there is a lot of variety. “No two plays are the same or are even based on the same theme,” he says.
“And while there may be the odd film or two, there isn’t much entertainment specifically for kids. Besides, the thrill of watching a live performance is something else.” His play, as the name suggests, is an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic, and is being performed in English, Hindi and Marathi.
For Vyas, the excitement of directing these plays is a major incentive. “It gives me and my wife (Shivani Tanksale) the chance to think like children ourselves. When we venture into this genre, we forget that we are adults, thinking instead what we would like to see as children.”
But apart from festivals such as Junoon, are children’s plays likely to attract audiences? Vyas reckons that they have the potential of going beyond a seasonal phenomenon. Bijon adds, “For children, these plays are an interesting learning experience. A lot of plays are adaptations, and there’s always a difference between reading and watching (a performance).”
A case in point is Dancing Tales, a dance drama led by classical dancer Ananda Shankar Jayant, which opens this weekend. It will bring to life five well-known parables from the Panchatantra. She says, “I realised that classical dance appealed only to the older audiences. This is when we decided to do Panchtantra to reach out to young minds.”
Working with children is fun, says actor Neil Bhoopalam who stars in the play Zinga Zinga Roses. He adds: “I believe that doing a children’s play is the ultimate test because if they like what you’re doing, it means you’re doing it right.”