A pioneer of children's theatre and founder of Umang, Rekha Jain, who passed away in April this year at the age of 85, was a committed theatre artiste. Children's production “Qisse Afanti Ke” gave its moral lessons without forgetting humour.

A pioneer of children's theatre and founder of Umang, Rekha Jain, who passed away in April this year at the age of 85, was a committed theatre artiste who devoted more than six decades to performing arts and children's theatre and sought to achieve excellence in her productions. An awardee of Sangeet Natak Akademi, Jain in her youth was actively involved in Indian Peoples Theatre Association as a performing artist which transformed her into a truly total theatre artist.

With a view to bridge the divide between the rich children and the poor, she selected children for her theatre workshop productions from different strata of society. It was always an unalloyed joy to watch her productions by the children for the children. Dedicated to her memory, Umang presented its 31st annual production recently at Shri Ram Centre — this was the first production by Umang after the demise of its founder.

The audience watched the show with admiration and a tinge of sadness, missing the inspiring presence of the veteran. But the drama went on with fervour and optimism, an indication that Umang will carry on the glorious legacy of Jain.

Three short plays — “Jatil Prashn”, “Afanti Aur Pichku Pehelwaan” and “Urnewala Ghora” — were conceived in the course of children's theatre workshop conducted under the supervision of director Bansi Kaul. In all the plays, with an umbrella title “Kisse Afanti Ke” the character Afanti is the protagonist and that way he is the connecting thread.

As he confronts the antagonists, he establishes human values, exposes falsehood, arrogance and pomposity. Afanti's exploits bring him fame, popularity and respect. These meticulously produced plays made it a satisfying evening.

The plays opened with “Jatil Prashn” under the direction of Amit Richhariya. Here our hero Afanti teaches a lesson to the foolish ruler under the impression that he is wise and his courtiers are nincompoops. He forces them to answer nonsensical questions. When they show their inability to answer, he admonishes them. Enter Afanti and he turns the tables on the ruler, making him the butt of ridicule.

“Afanti Aur Pichku Pehelwaan” followed. After defeating all the mighty wrestlers of the area, Pichku becomes popular. Far from becoming humble, the victories go to his head; he starts shunning old friends, considering them below his status. Afanti exposes the pompous and vain Pehelwaan. A humbled Pichku realises the value of true friendship. Director Pramod Kumar Sharma has imaginatively composed crowd scenes, bringing to the fore the comic element discreetly.

The concluding piece was “Urnewala Ghora”. Directed by Harsh Daund, in this piece Afanti liberates the people of an unknown kingdom distressed by the whims of their queen who is headstrong and stubborn. Now she has taken a fancy for a horse, which could fly and take her to far away lands. With conventional wisdom and astuteness, Afanti forces the princess to part with her favourite horse and realise her wishes are foolish.

These productions are remarkable for their comic rhythm, wit, colour and absorbing storyline, which convey moral lesson in a subtle way. Music score by Anjana Puri enhanced the beauty of these productions. The audience comprising children and their parents established a lively rapport with the children performing on stage. The best thing was children acted with ease, exuding enthusiasm. Pallavi Rai, Raghvendra Kumar Shrivastav and Rajat Mittal acted in the first, second and third play respectively. All three performers displayed sharp wit and intelligence, their characters had taken upon themselves to help people in distress and are victims of arrogant, haughty and foolish people in power. Pulkit Bansal's caricature of the foolish king and Jatin Gupta's Pichku Pehelwaan impressed the audience.