Theatre director/designer Bansi Kaul derives his strength from ordinary people and humour in everyday life.
Laughter, for Bansi Kaul, is potent. He values its power and purpose, nurtures it with fondness, and nudges it to tease with what is left unsaid. Kaul and his group, the Bhopal-based Rang Vidushak, have never let humour go off, but created a theatre language with it.
Humour was obvious and underlying satire up to be deciphered even when Kaul guided a group of children at Umang to stage their workshop production “Kisse Afanti Ke” at Shri Ram Centre this week.
Theatre director and designer, Kaul's interests span across all avenues of theatre. He worked extensively with theatre music at the last Bharat Rang Mahotsav. Children's theatre keeps him interested at many levels. Stage/space craft to him is an expression of his inspirations.
“I try to do all aspects of theatre,” says Kaul. Designing the performance space to him is merely putting together the little characters that allow theatre to reach its completion. “Theatre is not necessarily about telling a story. Direction and design have become almost synonymous today. Stagecraft is just a part of the production, like furniture in a house.”
However, it is to his beginnings as a painter that Kaul attributes his interest to stagecraft. The way he makes a stage carries germs of influences from different quarters — Indian bazaars a significant one among them. It is from here, he finds the humour for his theatre craft too. “Here, you can see a rickshaw with 20 people sitting, holding a laptop. Past, present and future come together here. A vegetable vendor with a mobile phone…look around India, it is better than walking through museums. The sense of humour you see in the bazaars, I only wish the malls won't take away,” he says.
Kaul is always on the look out for subtle humour in everyday life which presents itself in the most ordinary circumstances in this country. “The slogans on automobiles, on three-wheelers and trucks, were sms language almost 50 years before it became a rage,” he points out.
“I see people as an asset, not a burden,” says Kaul, and it is from them that he draws out the laughter that makes his theatre. The strength of laughter for him is in its meanings not so obvious. “Laughter is a mode of protest too. After 10 days of the Bhopal gas tragedy, laughter gave people the strength to carry on. But the State never understood laughter as their protest.”
Bansi calls his theatre a plea to keep alive this “extra emotion” that man has over animals. “Laughter is a political comment, a protest. It is not only entertainment.”
If he thinks laughter in life is on the wane, he is much more optimistic about the state of children's theatre in the country. Felicitated with the Rekha Jain Bal Rang Samman for his contributions to children's theatre, Kaul firmly believes in the power of theatre to melt differences among children.
With more and more theatre groups taking up summer workshops with children, he thinks collective performances can break the ice between the have's and the have-not's. “When they hold each other's hand and do that for two months, it might become a habit for life.”
Children's workshops are also a bridge for theatre groups to connect with their audience. “At the district level, it gets connected to local parents — the audience.”
Yet, Kaul believes children's theatre needs more funds and attention than any other sector. “The problem is that in our country nothing is done for children.” Local bodies, he suggests, should be coming forward with funds and attention to children. Kaul even floats the idea of a national children's academy which will take care of children and arts.
Kaul, meanwhile, is making it a point to give his attention to theatre and all its accompaniments.
Umang of innocence
A tiny step towards giving children's theatre its due took place at the Shri Ram Centre this week. The Rekha Jain Bal Rang Samman was given to author, playwright and editor of children's literature Harikrishna Devsare and director Bansi Kaul. The awards were instituted by Rekha Jain, founder director of children's theatre group Umang, to recognise contributions in the field. After her death early this year, Umang renamed the award in her memory. Renowned poet and Jnanpeeth awardee, poet Kunwar Narayan gave away the awards. It was followed by Umang's workshop production “Kisse Afanti Ke.”