Here, every street-corner holds a tale, every character embodies a story and every day unfolds a new adventure – welcome to the world of Malgudi. This weekend, R K Narayan’s beloved tales from Malgudi Days will be brought to life on stage by Pune-based Swatantra Theatre Group at the three-day Vizag Junior Theatre Fest.
The tales of Malgudi continue to resonate with readers even in a fast-paced technology-driven world, offering timeless wisdom and insight into the human experience, capturing the essence of emotions, dilemmas and relationships. “The essence of Malgudi is there all around us. It has a high relatability. And today, when we have narrowed down the meaning of life and are missing out on appreciating the connect of hearts that binds humans, Malgudi needs to be taken back to children,” says Dhanashree Heblikar of Swatantra Theatre.
The cast, consisting of 22 members, boasts a unique mix, featuring the youngest talent Kavya Dand, a nine-year-old prodigy. Kavya, along with three other child actors and a team of seasoned adult performers, will bring to life the enchanting tales.
According to Dhanashree, themes of friendship, family dynamics, societal norms, and the quest for identity remain as pertinent today as they were when R K Narayan penned the stories. “Malgudi encourages us to slow down, reflect and find solace in the simplicity of life,” she adds. Capturing the essence of this timeless world in the theatrical format required deliberation and planning. “We had to establish the essence of characterisation within a short time on stage. There were some challenging moments which required a different approach to bring out the same effect on stage,” says Dhanashree. For instance, Ranga in the story Four Rupees goes into a 60-feet deep well. “We had to bring out the same impact on stage by designing the aesthetics accordingly,” she adds
The music has been recreated through a mix of instruments like sarod, beat-boxing and other elements to bring out the rural essence. There are moments of laughter, contemplation and emotional catharsis. “They remind us of the importance of storytelling as a therapeutic tool for mental well-being, offering comfort in challenging times,” says Dhanashree.
Swatantra Theater was established in Pune in 2006. Over the years, the group has directed and produced several plays based on the themes of national integration and humanity. Founded by Abhijeet Choudhary, Yuwaraj Shah and Dhanashree Heblikar, the theater group guides promising talent into the art form and helps connect the new generation to the magic of the stage.
Swatantra has participated in leading festivals and was also invited at the National School of Drama’s Bharat Rang Mahotsav in 2019-2020, Deccan Literature Fest, Film and Television Institute of India and National Defence Academy. The students trained at Swatantra Academy of Performing Arts are working in various areas of television, theatre and cinema.
The group works in various segments such as ‘Theatre for Society’ and ‘Theatre for Therapy’. Its children’s theatre segment is the most celebrated one. “While working with children of ages six to 15, we try to collaborate literature with theatre by producing plays on writers like Rabindranath Tagore, Ruskin Bond, Sudha Murthy,” says Dhanashree.
Along with performing proscenium plays, the group also performs street theatre, playback theatre, community theatre and also corporate plays. Swatantra’s recent work on community theatre was appreciated and invited to be presented at the UK Parliament. During the pandemic, the group presented 128 online plays, each with a different theme. Swatantra also conducted online training programmes for children and adults during the pandemic.
Swatantra’s feature film based on migrant labourers called Labour Pain will be showcased at various film festivals this year.
“Our aim to connect people to theatre. This can be a very liberating space which helps one open up, explore one’s creative sides and become the best version of oneself. Many people, including children, who were termed ‘shy’ or ‘under-confident’ have transformed beautifully through the platform,” says Dhanashree.
Malgudi Days will be presented at the Vizag Junior Theatre Fest organised by LitLantern for Culture and Literature Welfare Society at VMRDA Children’s Arena on November 25 and 26. Tickets are available at Tanishq showroom, VIP Road.