When Yuki Ellias’s play Elephant In The City came to Mumbai
Theatre director-actor Yuki Ellias’s award-winning play, Elephant In The Room, was staged in the city this week.
Mumbai’s Ganpati Visarjan (immersion), which has been a constant source of creative inspiration, finds its mention in theatre practitioner Yuki Ellias’s award-winning play, Elephant In The Room. It was staged as part of the ongoing Summertime children’s theatre festival at Prithvi Theatre in Juhu.
The play reimagines the story of Lord Ganesha in a quirky way. “Ganpati visarjans happen every year in Mumbai. I love the idea of the procession that takes place. There’s a dance that usually happens with these processions. So, I wanted to make a movement-based piece on that. It would be more stylised and contrasting to the dance that we see. Someone suggested that I should add a narrative with it and I said, ‘of course I could’. But I didn’t want it to be the Ganpati story, since everyone already knows about it. What interested me is what happened to Lord Ganesha’s head. I just wanted to find another side to the story,” says Ellias, who has directed and performed the piece.
TWEAKING THE MYTH
The play uses the outline of the familiar mythological tale on Lord Ganpati with variations. A young boy named Master Tusk has been given an elephant’s head. He is lost in a jungle but encounters several other characters there.
Talking about the storyline, Ellias says, “There is a Disney-esque quality to the play, since there are many characters, who are lovable. It’s like an animated film, although it’s a solo and I play all the parts. A young one loses his way and faces obstacles but discovers many friends. There’s a lot of emotion and story in the play. It is quite an action-oriented plot. Even though it’s a solo, it has a lot in the narrative. There’s a forest, there’s a boy looking for his head, there’s an army coming to look for the boy — so it’s epic in terms of storytelling.”
The play was originally commissioned by the Prakriti Foundation and has been written by Sneh Sapru. Ellias reveals the play was not originally written for children. “When we were writing the play, we never thought of children. In our heads, the audience, who we were telling the story to, comprised adults,” she says. But during a performance in Hyderabad, the directors of the Hyderabad Children’s Theatre Festival requested for it become a part of their festival.
“When we finally performed in Hyderabad in front of 700 children, after every scene they were clapping. At every turning point in the plot, the entire audience would applaud. It was a good surprise. That’s when we realised that it worked better as a children’s play,” adds Ellias about the transformation of the play.
Ellias had initially wanted to cast several actors in the play, but it was a difficult task to find actors. She later decided on playing all the parts herself. “I play eight characters in the one-hour performance. I also play Lord Ganpati. The play’s writer Sneh Sapru has put together both genders quite well. I think I like to plug into both genders, till the gender ceases to matter, and it becomes about the characters and their wants,” she says.
NO CHILD’S PLAY
When asked about the importance of children’s theatre, Ellias says that it is important for children to feel a human connection. “To be in a performance, which is live and not on a screen, can move you in many ways. A play has no film quality to it and that makes it human. It is not coming via any other medium. The medium in a play is human beings. That experience is visceral,” she says.
”When I was a kid, I saw a kathakali version of King Lear and it was so extraordinary for me, that it stayed with me. I saw five women clowns and I was amazed that they could make me laugh,” she adds.
She goes on talking about how theatre is a community-driven exercise and “brings people together”. “I don’t know about the learning bit but the sensory experience of theatre is inspiring. Also, children sitting together and watching a play is such a community-driven activity. It happens in religion, where everyone sits and listens to sermons. But theatre is a non-religious space, where in a social way, everyone can share some hopes and dreams. You feel together for that duration of the play and it’s important to instil that sense in children.”