Friday Review

Theatre as teacher

A scene from "Hard Times".

A scene from "Hard Times".   | Photo Credit: 17dfr bajeli2

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The Hindi adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “Hard Times”, mounted by Khilona Theatre, taught humanistic values to children in a fun way.

There was a time when we used to watch stage adaptations of Charles Dickens’ novels full of vitality, powerful characterisations with universal appeal. Thanks to Khilona Theatre for children & young, we watched his “Hard Times” in the form of a beautiful parable, interspersed with lyrics set to music and dances. Presented at Epicentre, Gurgaon recently, the adapted version in Hindi retains the basic plot and characters of the original, reinforcing its philosophical kernel that society should be sensitised to have compassion and sympathy for the fellow human beings. It also tells parents and teachers that in the name of detached rationalism, we should not ignore the teaching of humanistic values.

Founder-director of Khilona, V. K., an awardee of Sangeet Natak Akademi, worked for nearly three years to produce the stage version of the novel. Working for more than four decades in the field of children theatre and education, he in collaboration with Kiran Deep has produced a number of plays for children and young people. Under the joint creative venture of V.K and Kiran Deep, Khilona produces two types of theatre – one a children theatre group in the capital with adult actors and theatre for children by children. Arguably, Khilona is the only children’s theatre that produces plays on a grand scale. Khilona's production of Henrik Ibsen's “Peer Gyant” as a musical with lively dancers in aesthetically designed costumes continues to be remembered as a milestone in Indian theatre for children.

Directed and designed by Deep, the play revolves around Thomas Gradgrind who believes that human life should be guided by the principles of rational thought. To make society a better place to live sentiments such as love, emotions and affection should have no place in human relations. A rich man and a member of parliament, he has one daughter Louisa and a son, Tom who imbibe their father's narrow worldview. Thomas adopts an orphan daughter of a clown who has fallen on hard days. The girl is sensitive and emotional. The family members consider her foolish. The rich man's wife is chronically ill. The adopted daughter looks after her with care and affection.

Steeped in the culture of promotion of self-interest, the son starts squandering his father’s money. The anti-social and parasitic path he has taken finally leads him to loot a bank and implicate a poor and innocent worker who works in his father's factory and his services are terminated because he refuses to spy on factory workers on strike. The sentiments of romance and love are foreign to Louisa.

Gradgrind is much influenced by Josiah Bounderby, a self-made man and now a rich businessman. He claims that his mother has thrown him in a gutter when he was an infant. He is boastful of his an obscure childhood who has risen to the ranks of successful businessmen. A former aristocrat, who has now fallen on hard times, works for him but she expresses her class bias against an upstart. An impoverished woman with suspicious movements tends to show her devotion to Josiah.

The upstart wants to marry Lousia who is half her age. Louisa’s father is happy that a successful businessman is so eager to become his son-in-law and insists that his daughter should give her consent to the marriage proposal. The father asserts that there is nothing like love and what matters is materialistic success. So Louisa is condemned to lead a miserable married life.

There is another twist. A young, educated and romantic aristocrat comes to Gradgrind to be groomed as a politician. He falls for Louisa and before he succeeds to seduce her, he is forced to leave the town.

The play unfolds on a bare stage. There is simple platform in the upstage centre with slopes on either side which enables the director to form various choreographic patterns at different levels to enrich the production visually. The bareness of stage provides performers to act without any obstruction and room to improvise. Lyrics set to music score by Kashish enhance the aural beauty of the production and reinforce the message of the play, making aware parents and teachers the need to impart the right kind of moral and aesthetic education to the young people and the place of art as an educator in society. The music, drama and choreography all become an intrinsic part of the artistic whole. In the play we also know about the problems of artists working for circus, especially the clowns, who face crises during economic depression.

Sudipto Banerji as Gradgrind, Jyotsana Yadav as Louisa, deeply unhappy married woman, Akash Hingorani as arrogant Josiah and Prakash Joshi as circus owner and seducer of Louisa act, dance and sing in an effortless manner, communicating the joy of acting to the audience in the auditorium consisting of children and their parents.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 6:16:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Theatre-as-teacher/article14425995.ece

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