The Ungrateful Man was a riotous staging abuzz with action, colour, humour, sound effects and drama of the Panchatantra fable

Children babbled, their enthusiastic parents chuckled and 60-year-olds sat back and guffawed watching a performance of David Horsburgh’s “The Ungrateful Man”, directed by Vijay Padaki and enacted by Bangalore Little Theatre at Rangashankara. The stage, abuzz with action, colour, humour, sound effects and drama, brought the Panchatantra animal fable alive. Richly bedecked with vibrant costumes, multi-hued make-up, puppetry and a varied cast, “The Ungrateful Man” also celebrates its 40th anniversary of its first performance in Bangalore. The proceeds of the play will go towards Dream a Dream NGO.

Interactive and engaging, the percussionist had everyone clapping their hands and slapping their thighs in response to his catchy beats. And the Sutradhar (Shashank Nagaraja) and Nati (Medhave Gandhi) in ethnic costumes complete with a jhola kept the narrative going.

The children acting were a delight; Yagnamurthi (Sridhar Ramanathan) was a riot as the pot-bellied Brahmin with his exaggerated whimpers and cries. Yagnamurthi’s wife, Subhashini (Priya Venkatesh) was magnified in the form of a giant puppet.

Pushing boundaries

The stage was extended to the whole theatre in some scenes like when Yagnamurthi looks for Sutradhar in the audience.

After rescuing the monkey, the tiger and the snake from the well, Yagnamurthi is advised by children in the audience not to pull out the ‘bad man’. The message that we should always help people in distress is something the animals honour. When the Sutradhar asks the audience, “Do you talk to yourself?” and the audience exclaim: “Yes I do!”, the play makes a strong statement for the innocence of childhood.

The screen in the backdrop changed colour to represent the time of day – mellow orange for sunrise or a full moon night shaded by the green forest. The translation of Yagnamurthi’s chants into English, increased the play’s accessibility quotient. Girls in shimmering blues and greens dancing across the stage was evocative of a child’s imagination.

The helpless Yagnamurthi wandering through the forest in search of money is helped by the grateful animals in various ways. Monkeys spread a feast complete with a tetra-pack of juice and a picnic basket. Children from the audience come on-stage in pre-rehearsed style, munching toffees and call the monkeys.

Mixed messages

When they throw the wrappers, the Sutradhar makes them pick them up thus teaching children not to litter. All the good work came to a naught when the play showed the children feeding the monkeys with toffees when they were on hunger strike, creating a contradiction to the earlier environmental lesson.

The tiger’s house was modern with a post-box and fence. While the tiger was captivating in his leopard-print bathrobe swaggering around. And when he narrates the tale of how he got the necklace from the dead prince, he enacts it imaginatively to the awestruck children. Yagnamurthi’s journey is also played out well with vivid village scenes of trading and traders. And when he lands up in Benares, Yagnamurthi’s typical Anglicized- accented Hindi was mirthful, pronouncing the elongated ‘hai” to precision.

The second part though replete with fine costumes, sets, sounds and acting was too long drawn out to hold the sleepy children’s attention-span. The scene has now shifted to the palace. The over-emphasis of the innocent ‘poor Brahmin’ went overboard, while the goldsmith always being wrongly portrayed as wicked and greedy gives the wrong impression to children.

But Suvarnaka (Shashank Purushotham) was superb in the portrayal of the money-minded goldsmith with his nasal voice dripping with cunning and wiliness. The old marriage tradition of swayamvara was explained to children. But the concept of what is ugliness: ‘pimples and fat’ and beauty: “fairness and slim” and the exalted holy powers of the priestly class, once again, should have been altered from the original for the impressionable minds.

The snake’s hood standing up with the help of a string from atop when it speaks to Yagnamurthi in jail in semi-darkness was creative with shadows dancing in the background. Though there were some slight glitches in the late arrival of props, actors who sometimes bumped into each other and light timings and co-ordination, it can be overlooked as the performance was a commendable effort from the director. In the end, the child-actors rolled out a banner, “Sorry, No Visitors Backstage”. Even though it is a two-hour play, “The Ungrateful Man” is where you’d want to take your children for a delightful entertainment-excursion. The play is on till August 26 with both matinee school-shows and one at 7.30 p.m. Call 9243493054.