Umang’s “Kaun Bada Kaun Chhota”, staged in the memory of Rekha Jain, was a joyous experience

As an escape from sweltering weather, sitting amidst excited children accompanied by their parents with beaming faces in the air-conditioned Kamani auditorium this past week was a joyous experience. The occasion was the staging of “Kaun Bada Kaun Chhota” by Umang to honour the memory of Rekha Jain, the founder of Umang and pioneer of children theatre movement in India. It was also an occasion to celebrate the outstanding works on children literature and theatre by Hindi writer Dr. Shriprasad who was the recipient of Rekh Jain Bal Rang Samman 2012. Based in Varanasi, Dr. Shriprasad was born in 1932. He appeared physically a bit weak but when he addressed the audience he spoke with conviction, his voice was clear and forceful. Eulogising the contribution of Rekha Jain, who passed away in 2010, to the field of children theatre, he referred the work being done in foreign countries to raise the aesthetic sensibility and creativity of children by mass participation of children in the recitations of the poems of great poets. “Rekha Jain understood the power of poetry, music and dance in children’s theatre. By incorporating all these elements she was able to evolve a distinct theatre for children by children from different socio-economic backgrounds to evoke the feeling of universal brotherhood among them, he said.

Rekha Jain wrote “Kaun Bada Kaun Chhota” in 1989 and it was premiered in 1990. After 22 years it is being revived under the direction of Harish Verma, who had the opportunity to be associated with Rekha Jain while it was produced for the first time. In fact, he joined Rekha Jain in 1986 and calls her lovingly as aunty. He has handled the new version with sincerity, sensitivity and with ingenuity. The script provides to most of the children numbering about 70 to act and deliver a few dialogues which gave them immense joy and happy moments to their parents in the auditorium to watch their children on the stage as performers.

The play follows the age-old format of story-telling. Instead of granny, here is a granddad that comes all the way from China. Children keep on goading him to tell them an exciting story. An initially reluctant grand dad begins story which gradually acquires momentum, evoking a sense of curiosity. This is the story of arrogance, clash of egos which results in social chaos, loss of identity, making the rivals ridiculously irrelevant to society. This serious social issue is illustrated through the characters of eye, nose, mouth and ear that fulfil different roles to make human life meaningful – their power lies in the way they function collectively and hence they are close allies functioning in a harmonious world. Through these characters the production comments on the divisive elements in the society that are out to disintegrate the country to achieve their selfish and nefarious motives.

Verma has used bare stage imaginatively to project beautiful choreographic patterns to the accompaniment to lyrics rendered in melodious voices. The costumes and lighting create a variety of hues. The way mass scenes are choreographed are spectacular and full of energy. It is playful. The difficult and serious issue is treated in a manner that is comic, charming and captivating. The qawwali scene thrilled the audience. The production comes to an end with the rendering of the lines, “Milke Rahenge, Milke Rahenge, Yahi Hamara Geet Hai” by the entire cast, conveying the moral of the play in a convincing manner.

The large children cast win the hearts of the audience with the dance movements, colourful costumes and highly stylised movements. Shrika Kohli as Aankh Maharani, Gurpreet Singh as Mukh Raja, Pragati Malhotra as Nak Maharani and Shivani Negi as Kan Raja delight the audience with their impassive performances.