Playwright Mariam Karim-Ahlawat’s musical on street children will be staged this Saturday
Simple sets, eight songs and more than a dozen child actors – that’s the formula director Neelam Gupta will deploy for Mariam Karim-Ahlawat’s modern Indian interpretation of Hansel and Gretel titled A Bagful of Dreams. Written almost half-a-decade back, soon after the Nithari serial murders, Mariam describes her play as, “A stringent comment on a society that rejects poor children and hates them.”
Novelist and playwright Mariam has taken time to choose a troupe for the sensitive play. The delay was compounded by her shift from Bengaluru to Delhi, along with her soldier husband. While the play is in English, the cast is from Ritinjali Second Chance School, an institution in Mahipalpur for children from economically weak households. The music director, linguist and writer Peggy Mohan, and Neelam trained the children to act in English.
Says Peggy, “These are children from backgrounds similar to the victims of Nithari. They have experienced the same dangers and hardships, so the theme is not alien to them. It was a new challenge for them to perform on stage. But their involvement makes the play even more credible.”
“We started the rehearsals in August. The first task was making them talk without hurting their sensitivities. Then we worked on their pronunciation. The dialogue is very realistic and the props are minimal,” explains Neelam who teaches theatre in Vasant Valley School.
“It’s a funny and tender play,” says Mariam. Lines like, “You too then are equally unkind. We respect them enough to eat them,” by the witch characters at their trial, is bound to strike close to home. Mariam explains that the play is targeted at the elite, and hence it is in English.
The songs by Peggy are Western children’s rhyme style tracks. “It is tuned to the children and designed to deliver a serious theme in a happy manner,” she explains.
The play will be staged at India Habitat Centre’s Stein Auditorium on November 10 at 7 p.m.
Sherlock for the people
A Bagful of Dreams’ music director Peggy Mohan recently released her second novel The Youngest Suspect. The novel, set in Gujarat, centres around the defence of a young Muslim boy named Adil, charged with conspiracy of allegedly planning to bomb Ahmedabad.
Peggy uses her skills as a linguist to discredit Adil’s confession, as recorded by the police, to prosecute him under the erstwhile Prevention of Terrorism Act (PoTA). She undertook her research during many visits to Ahmedabad and interactions with officials and activists dealing with such terror cases.
“Though an accused cannot retract a confession made under POTA, an expert can appear before the court to show substantial evidence that proves the confession is false or given under torture,” Peggy explained.
Many characters in the novel resemble real-life personalities like slain minister Haren Pandya. Peggy however insisted that it was purely a work of fiction, inspired by the tense years following the post-Godhra violence in the state in 2002.
Peggy, of Trinidad Indian descent, specialises in Trinidad Bhojpuri. Her first novel Jahajin, which was published in 2007, deals with the migration of Indians from the Gangetic plains to the plantations in the Caribbean.