A school production that investigated the origins of theatre itself made for a thought-provoking production

Ramjas School, Pusa Road, is known for producing spectacular shows full of colour, wit and dramatic exploration of themes to which students can relate. This year it came with a novel idea of dramatising the history of theatre itself, illustrating that theatre could retain its magic while it educates about the complex character of the medium and the factors that have ensured its enduring charm and continuity over the centuries. Entitled “Rahasya Pancham Ved Ka”, it was presented at Shri Ram Centre recently, featuring nearly 100 students and fusing elements of music, dance and drama.

Jointly directed by V.K. and Kiran Deep Sharma, the script is written by V.K., a veteran children’s theatre director who has directed nine productions for the school in collaboration with Kiran so far. V.K. has written 35 plays for children, enriching a field where there is an utter dearth of meaningful works. While conceiving “Rahasya Pancham Ved Ka”, the directors have followed the format of the play-within-the-play to provide the young cast the opportunity to improvise and interact with situations set in the past and present and raise questions about the various stages of theatre development and history.

The play revolves round a group of students who want to stage a play. They want to evolve a script that reflects their own life in truthful colours. A director is invited to guide them. Far from imposing his own ideas, he encourages the students to debate various issues confronting society. In the process they talk about theatre and society. Does it really mirror society? They also raise questions about whether society needs theatre. Why should students engage in theatre instead of devoting their precious time to academics? In the course of discussions there emerges the idea that theatre is not merely a source of entertainment but an essential part of education and an instrument of social change.

As part of the narrative, the director comes forward and tells the students about the history of theatre beginning with the earliest Greek theatre where plays were enacted in open-air theatres built into hillsides universally known as amphitheatre, and then the focus shifts to the Indian view of the origin of theatre, believed to be conceptualised by Brahma himself as the Pancham Ved (fifth Veda) which seeks to communicate the wisdom of the Vedas to everyone irrespective of caste, creed and beliefs, through the medium of songs, dance and drama. The task of giving practical form to the Pancham Ved is entrusted to Bharatamuni who with his 100 sons gives it live theatrical expression for the Gods. However, the demons destroy their shows. A compromise is sought that theatre will express all shades of opinion and conflicting interests, in an attempt to democratise the institution of theatre.

The student actors frequently step out from the mythological characters and enter another character set in the contemporary time, constantly questioning the mythological depiction of characters and situations that belong to the world of fantasy.

The directors have incorporated into the narrative about a dozen songs written by V.K. The simple but graceful choreography embellishes the production. The music score is composed by Chittranjan Tripathy, a new talent in the field of theatre music. Among the accompaniments are instruments like the synthesiser, guitar and percussions. The set designed intelligently ensures the smooth exit and entry of the large cast and provides different points for the dramatic action to be viewed effectively by the audience. The songs comment on the action in the Brechtian style as well as take the narrative further.

The production vibrated with the vitality and enthusiasm of the young student cast who established a lively rapport with the jam-packed hall. Significantly, three special morning shows were also organised for students of other schools.