Children at Vithura on the outskirts of the city seem to say, "If Peter Brook can, so can we." They staged the Mahabharatha at their village and on the museum grounds in the city.
A mighty roar could be heard from a classroom at the upper primary school in Vithura, 32 km from the city. The young boy let out another great roar and with the masterful gait of a lion, he stepped forward fearlessly, eyes narrowed and stance threatening, warding off his prey.
Even without costume, lighting or props, the budding young actor breathed life into his character, adopting its spirit. In another group's rehearsal, Yudhishthira's regal gestures and proclamations expressed a stateliness that reanimates this ruler of the land, embracing the essence of the Pandavas.
For 12-year-old Lajesh, this staging of the Mahabharata gives him the chance to act for the first time. He modelled each mannerism and word of the eldest Pandava, with his natural exuberance shining through. "I like my character and am looking forward to the performance,'' he said.
``The 18 segments of the Mahabharata have been condensed into seven acts,'' explained Sudhakaran, director of the Vithura-based Suhruth Nataka Kalari which has put up the play.
Rehearsals for Adi Parvam, Sambhava Parvam, Vana Parvam, Viradam, Yudham and Mahaprashthanam took place on the school premises. The play was later staged at the Vithura village stadium and the Museum grounds. V. Sudhakaran has worked in theatre for the past 10 years and explained that children have been selected from schools in and around Vithura.
``Unlike urban students, those in the village rarely get the opportunity to act in plays,'' he said. "As Drama is not a part of the school curriculum, this kind of exposure is invaluable''.
M. S. Satheesh, director of one of the segments, confirms that the teaching methods allow each child to express their talent by using his imagination and injecting his own style into the character he plays. "We tell children the outline of the story and they improvise to create the exact dialogues and sequences,'' he said. "Some children have learnt dance at school, so they use it as part of the performance.'' Such scope for independent input has undoubtedly contributed to the playful but dedicated attitude of each child. Whether their role is that of a swaying tree or a powerful warrior, the enthusiasm of the young players is unmistakeable.
Divya, a ninth class student, said, "I have made a lot of friends since we started practising''.
Such whole-hearted involvement from the children indicates their delight at being able to take part in the production. Asha Rana, who plays Panchali, added shyly, "Kavya Madhavan is my favourite actress and I want to be like her when I am older.''
Obviously inspired by the chance to participate in the staging of the Mahabharata, the children also have the encouragement of their parents. Sudhakaran explained that "the parents appreciate having something constructive to occupy their children during the holidays''.
T. T. Shaji developed the script for the Yudha Parvam and is satisfied with the rehearsals. He said, "At first, the vastness of the play was intimidating but with everyone working together, everything has fallen into place.''
Shaji explained that the children's characters are alternated so that each child has a chance to play different roles. "A change of lighting is all that is needed for a character to change its head dress or props and take on another part.'' Sateesh added, "The children are very talented and have adapted well to these different roles.''
After a morning rehearsal, the promising actors crowd around to eat and play.
Anish, an eighth class student, and Nicoshan, a fifth class student, excitedly affirm that they are confident about the play and are not at all nervous about performing in front of the large audience that is anticipated.
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