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Some stories never fail to impress

Known tales and known story-tellers. Nandikar’s Kochi Kacha Der Hotto Mela had nothing new to offer, nothing that comes as remarkably fresh and innovative. But old stories were more of a déjà vu. Something that was neither fresh nor innovative but special indeed. Plays based on stories of Sunil Gangopadhyay and Satyajit Ray, resurrected on stage, left the audience longing for the good old days of fairy tales.Art cannot be categorised as that for children or for adults. But still, connotative it may seem, the “children” did put up a brilliant performance. This troupe of Nandikar with more than 80 actors on stage, each of their characters being so tangible, makes up for the occasional slips. Specifically, in Shotti Rajputra, the mastery of the child actors covers up the faux pas with the costumes. Shotto Rajputra (story: Sunil Gangopadhyay, direction: Sohini Sengupta) is about a lonely child, Moloy, with royal lineage who craves for ordinary things in his extra ordinary life. He wants to have chire badam and not kaju badam. He craves for things mundane, letters from his mother (which he knows will never come) or a call from his father who is abroad.The aunt who comes to look after Moloy, occasionally, in her full bloom snobbishness brings out the helplessness and the identity crisis of the royal families bereft of their title and how they try to cling tight to what they have with the help of trivial things, “amader barir chhele meye ra phuchhka khayena”.Moloy has a repressed childhood. That is why when a sadhu kidnaps him, he finds it exciting, for it makes him see the world through the painted glass of his imagination. All characters from his storybooks come alive. But not for long. He soon realises that he is in the “real” world with real “quacks”. This begins a new journey where Moloy discovers his own self and others. The play quite subtly peeks into the psyche of the boy, the sadhu and his aids. Moloy manages to evade the kidnappers and run away ending up in a small village of Murshidabad where a farmer’s family gives him shelter. The prince who would not settle for less than luchi and paratha relishes panta bhaat served with love. Moloy offers the family his gold ring and is touched to see that not all is money and name. The world runs on love instead. The stationmaster takes Moloy back to his parents. But Moloy was no more a ‘prince’; he had transcended all superficialities and tasted what real life is. Moloy among his family members had become the ‘real prince’. He had become ‘Shotti Rajputra’. The play tickles audience not with words or acting or costume, the humour is solely circumstantial, since the play almost transcends the limitations of “performance” and becomes alive on the stage. The riot of colours on stage gives a feel that a rainbow had become the narrator, which is in stark contrast to the colourless uniform and the desolate life of the Rajputra. With Swatilekha Sengupta on music, the score was with the play, intact, till the end. Devices, to make the play interactive, kept audience from drifting away as it involved them completely. Few lines ~ Muktipan chao, muktipan er banan janona and dakat er din nei bole sadhu hoyechhi ~ linger. The four day Hotto Mela, as it was called, had plays with a common motif ~ faith. All the characters had vacant lives and all were seen clinging on to faith. More like it is with children’s theatre, in its gradual recession, we believe that someday somewhere, somebody would bring back the old sack of tales and we would watch the pages unfold, with smiles blossoming all around. Nandikar did it for us and we hope it does again.Theatre without boundaries The festival also held forth an amalgamation of theatre forms with silent plays by Gunila Valin (Three Little Piglet) and Ipek Melum (The Frog Prince). The two artistes who were on invitation to India represent the silent theatre of Sweden and Theatre Mano from Norway. Silent theatre was initiated in 1971 and it became a part of The National Theatre in 1977. It has deaf and mute actors and also those who are not specially abled. Voyaging around the world for 34 years, Silent Theatre has been enthralling the audience with sheer power of acting. Sitting here, in Kolkata, it was amusing to see the children giving their own dialogue to that of the silent play on the stage. Both the plays used minimal props.

Soma Basu

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