Theatre

Not just child’s play!

ENGROSSING DRAMA: A scene from “Laakh Ki Naak”

ENGROSSING DRAMA: A scene from “Laakh Ki Naak”  

Carrying forward its founder Rekha Jain’s legacy, Umang recently staged Harish Verma’s “Laakh Ki Naak”, a meaningful children’s play that exposed corruption in society

Steeped in the people's cultural renaissance heralded by the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA) as a performing artist, Rekha Jain founded her own group Umang in Delhi in 1979. The aim was to create a vibrant theatre for children drawn from a wide spectrum of socio-economic classes with a view to inculcate into them aesthetic sensibility and a sense of communal bonding. After watching Umang's productions, year after year, one feels highly elevated to see the artistic quality of its productions and the creative energy displayed by children performing a variety of roles. After the demise of Rekha Jain in 2010, Umang continues uninterruptedly to carry forward her legacy by involving children in its multiple creative platforms, thanks to her culturally enlightened family members. This fact was very much in evidence in Umang's revival of Rekha's production of the play “Laakh Ki Naak” written by Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena which was presented at Karthiyani auditorium, Mayur Vihar Phase-1 this past week.

Not just child’s play!

Directed by Harish Verma, an all-round children's theatre artist, profoundly captures the sophistication, the easily accessible music score with sweet melody and visual charm as conceptualised by Rekha in her production of this play in 2006. The way the large cast of children of different age delicately formed choreographic patterns, the lighting effects and the background music imparted to the production gives a kind of freshness that established a lively rapport with the audience. The evening does not merely offer the audience just fun, it comments satirically on corruption widely prevalent in the state apparatus, especially in defence purchases — this is conveyed in a subtle way through a fable like narrative.

Though the production does not resort to sermons, it conveys its moral which is intrinsic part of the play. The moral is — the fall of the corrupt, which denies dignity to the struggling and honest manufacturers, is inevitable.

At a time when in the name of devised plays conceptualised in the course of children's theatre workshop half-baked productions are shown, Umang has always under the direction of Rekha Jain, who herself was a writer and dancer, selected brilliantly written plays. Saxena's “Laakh Ki Naak” is beautifully written and is highly relevant. A children's playwright, poet and short story writer, Saxena's aim was to make children aware about the existing social and political dichotomy in an interesting style. He has also written plays for adult audience lampooning inhuman traits of the ruling classes. His “Bakri”, adapted and staged by M.S. Sathyu first in Kannada and then in Hindi, is immensely popular with stage directors and audiences. The format of the play is flexible. Different directors stage it in different styles, exposing crooks and unscrupulous elements that grab political power and plunder public property.

In contrast, “Laakh Ki Naak” is written with the simplicity of a folk-tale in tune with the psychology and emotional perception of children. To make it captivating, it is interspersed with songs and stylised movements to create a world which is at once fanciful and real – this is the beauty of the play and of innovative directorial treatment.

Light hearted tone

We watch an unidentified kingdom, its king, queen, corrupt minister, abysmally poor artisans and a clever little girl through the eyes of narrators — Nat and Nati — who tell us story in a light-hearted tone, making us curious to know what will happen next. We watch a market scene where vendors are resorting to various stratagems to sell their merchandise. Funnily, their merchandise is replica of human nose in a variety of shape and colour.

It all presents an amusing spectacle. The prospective customers talk about these noses which are actually the symbol of man's dignity and honour. Amused, the customers feel that in the strange land men have lost their honour which is symbolised by one’s nose (naak).

Then the narrators take us to the two warring countries. One combatant country loses war despite having a huge army. The king of the defeated country, to avenge his defeat, recruits more soldiers and purchases more swords. The task of selecting the best swords is entrusted to the minister, keeping the army chief out of the purchase of swords. The defeated king's army once again goes to war and once again it is badly defeated because the swords used by soldiers are made of inferior material and broken into pieces by the superior swords of their rivals.

Unscrupulous elements

What ails the swords of the defeated army? The minister's selection operandi is ridiculous. The unscrupulous manufacturers bribe the minister to sell their inferior swords. He smells these inferior swords with his nose and declares them the best. The play also highlights the misery of the hard working and honest artisans in a corrupt and unjust society.

In contrast, the corrupt and morally bankrupt manufacturers continue to amass wealth and take pride in their ill-gotten money.

An intelligent daughter of an artisan devices a strategy and tells her father to put it in practice. In the process while smelling the sword of the artisan, the minister's nose gets chopped off by the sharp edge of the sword. The truth about the defeat is revealed to the king who orders that the minister without nose be exiled. The fine mass scenes embellished with colourful tableau that herald the arrival of king and queen accompanied by royal personages enrich the production.

One enjoyed the entire cast of children act in an effortless manner.

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Printable version | Mar 24, 2020 7:11:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/not-just-childs-play/article24161039.ece

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