The recently concluded Jashne Bachpan festival showed that India's children's theatre movement is definitely gaining momentum.

The 10th Jashne Bachpan (National Theatre Festival for Children) organised by the National School of Drama's Sanskar Rang Toli, featuring 28 plays including one each from Germany, Bangladesh, and Nepal, came to a close on a joyous note with the presentation of “Adal Badal” (Hindi) by Sanskar Toli at Abhimanch this past week. After watching a dozen plays at the festival, by different groups from various regions of the country with linguistic, thematic and presentational variety, it appears that the children's theatre movement in the country is slowly but surely gaining momentum.

More and more professionally trained young directors are entering this hitherto neglected field. They are not only dealing with the dramatic presentation of folk tales and mythological stories but also focusing on important contemporary issues confronting children of different age groups.

The common expressive theatrical means used in most of the productions are music, dance and songs, all blended into a harmonious whole. The response of the children to the festival was tremendous.

The concluding piece “Adal Badal” is based on a fairytale adapted and directed by K.G. Krishnamurthy. It is remarkable for its rich production value, for evoking the magical atmosphere that transports the audience to a fantasy world and brilliant performances. It conveys the message that children of all creatures should be treated with motherly affection. “Indian Idol” (Bengali), a Nandikar production from Kolkata directed by Debshankar Halder, is an ironic expose of the frenzy of preparations for the “Indian Idol” contest, the wild dreams of the participants and the great expectations of the parents. It highlights the qualities one really needs to become a genuine Indian Idol-the quality of being human.

Presented by Sparsh, Prayas, Disha, Gujarat, “Ek Baat Ankahi” (Hindi) was directed by Murtuza Railwaywala, a practising clinical psychologist deeply concerned with the plight of children with learning disabilities . Based on his personal observations, interactions with children and their parents, Murtuza's script is stunningly realistic. It depicts the miserable world of such children. Parental pressures can ruin their world. As a clinician, he highlights that such children have potential to excel in other creative fields. Sympathetic parents encourage their children to pursue work they are interested in. In contrast, conventional and haughty parents think their children should excel at school studies at all cost to attain a respected social status.

Despite the long duration and a documentary type format, the production gripped the attention of the audience consisting of children and their parents. Its message is clear and loud: children weak at studies have a hidden faculty to excel in creative fields — all they need is parental encouragement and support.

Aasakta Kalamanch, Pune, presented “Jangulenama” (Hindi) directed by Sarang Sathaye, making a passionate appeal for the creation of sanctuaries for wild animals threatened by humans persistently encroaching on their space. The children in the auditorium simply loved the performers in animal costumes, talking like humans and moving like animals. It is entertaining as well as educative.

Presented by North East Theatre Academy, Assam, and directed by Simanta Phukan, “Platform” (Assamese) captures the pathetic world of orphans forced to live on railway platforms and make a living doing petty jobs. Despite the melancholic and sad mood the production evokes, there is an undercurrent of hope. It deeply stirs the audience. Another play in Assamese, “Nirontore Hori Bula Hori” presented by Sutradhar under the direction of Gourab Kumar Hazarika, takes us from stark reality to a mythological story of Lord Krishna, his childhood pranks and his divine power to protect people from the forces of evil. Colourful costumes, thrilling music and elegant dance movements make this production magnificent.

Karnataka-based ISS Kalamantapa's “Kindari Jogi” (Kannada) unfolds the story of a village infested with rats. A mendicant who rids the village of rats is deceived by a village head who refused to keep his promise. Director Janardan skilfully uses songs, dances, comic episodes and mimetic action to transform a simple tale into theatre that transcends the language barrier.

N. Jadumani Singh is a theatre artiste of many parts — music composure, stage director, costume, mask and make-up designer. His production of “Houdong Lamboiba” (Manipuri) staged by Huyen Lalong Thang Ta Culture Association, Manipur, is based on “Pahet and Saintly Cat”. A fine blend of delicate movements, intricate stage compositions, colourful costumes, music rendered by the cast with heartfelt intensity and a heroic story of a mother bird who defends her little ones from a deadly cat by initiating them into marshal art to repulse the enemy attack — it is a memorable production indeed.