Out of the mouth of babes


Gumma Banda Gumma uses the Grips philosophy to craft an engaging play


The Grips school of Children’s theatre – observes children as young people with opinions, and preferences and uses theatre to provide audience with a glimpse of how and why children think.In the 80’s the Grips approach to children’s theatre was introduced in India by Mohan Agashe, and subsequently in Bangalore by the Sanket group, which led to the writing and performance of new plays like Gumma Banda Gumma and Gagrayyana Friends.

With the establishment of Ranga Shankara’s own, in house children’s theatre programme, `A Ha!’, the Grips Children’s theatre finds its way into the broader realm once again. In November 2006, the programme conducted a workshop for the youth, culminating in the present performance.

German adaptation

Gumma has been adapted from the German play Max Und Millie, by S Surendranath, and has been directed by Vibhavari Deshpande, who coordinates the Grips programme at the Maharashtra Cultural Centre, Pune. The play is about identifiable realities of a child including fear of the dark and parental disapproval.The play, is fast moving and with scenes changing from the children’s room to the park. Two of the three children in the play are siblings Putta (Ganesh), Munni (Arundhati) while Gunda (Satya) is the boy they befriend in the park. While the siblings are from an affluent family, Gunda comes from a slum around where they live. Munni is the younger sister that both the boys can relate to, annoying at times, their best friend at other times. With each turn in the play, the children find themselves dealing their fears of being punished. The basic need of children to bypass punishment pushes them to find creative ways of finding solutions while remaining within the limits set by their parents.

While the three children are candid in their views of each other, the actors display a good understanding of how children behave and are successful in building a good rapport with the audiences.

The play integrates good writing with good acting.The actors as children run and cycle around in circles in the park, and effortlessly slip into dance, and singing. Their uninhibited performance probably instigates the rapport building process. There is no slips there, may be just a few warbling voices- but it adds to the play. Rajalakshmi as Putta and Munni’s mother, and Jagadish as Gunda’s father add to the characterization of the adults, sometimes unreasonable, impatient, but caring and trapped in their own realities. The sets by M.S. Satyu are innovative and simple. The only weakness – the time taken to change the scene from the room to the park, is a tad too long in some parts.

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Abhinaya Taranga (School of dramatic Arts) presented Ramachandra Deva’s Kalemba Kambhavu at Ranga Shankara as part of its silver jubilee celebrations. As always, the actors in the present play are students of the evening and weekend school of dramatic arts at its campus in Hanumantha Nagar. B. Suresh, theatre and small screen actor, directed the play.

The play is an assemblage of mythology, fantasy and a near real story. Three stories involving these three styles in different time frames are in the quest of love.

The first story is a metaphor for another metaphor. It is the story of the feud between the Lord Narayana and his weapon of destruction- the Sudarshana Chakra. Their debate about who is powerful, the weapon or its user fills out the first part of the play. The second part centers around a king who is keen on using his son as a pawn in a political battle with another country. The prince is a rebel, and is jailed for refusing to marry the daughter of the king’s ally and for further vexing him with his homosexual preferences. The story turns to fantasy when two birds, smuggle the princess of China (the daughter of the King’s adversary) to the jail cell where the prince has been imprisoned. The play ends with the emphasis that love triumphs over war.

The styles change with the stories seen. There is a mixture of Yakshagana and contemporary movement based histrionics. The connecting link between the three disparate stories is the Himmela, the chorus, who change the colour of the drape they are bound in, to suggest the movement in the story. Narayana, his wife Lakshmi and the Sudarshana Chakra (in Human form) are introduced on stage in moving trolleys pushed by their men clad in black costumes. Their presence seemed wasted in this part of the play, which used such a powerful movement based art form like Yakshagana. It seemed that the costumes were used only to set apart the story from others and to suggest its mythological nature. Although the costumes of the three main actors in this part (Narayana, Lakshmi, Sudarshana Chakra and the Demon) and thecolours impress, the characters were rather languid. The war scenes have some smatterings of the traditional style of dance.

Baffling turn

The second part is baffling. Is it about war, restlessness of the youth, homosexuality, emotional blackmail by parents, political schemes and plots?

The play also uses stereotypical images. The story of the birds reminds of a folk tale, and moves to show how in the absence of man, love prevails. However the original metaphor of the weapons of destruction taking over the world was lost towards the end.While the execution of the play was good, too many profound lines from the Himmela miss the mark. The Himmela need to be more synchronized in their movement and dialogue delivery.

The dances and the duels are engaging. The sets, music and singing are good. The hard work of the actors is obvious. It is perplexing to see Abhinaya Taranga choose such a play.

DEEPTHY SHEKHAR
The Hindu
29th December 2006


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Play on life


Gender and community polemics were highlighted in the plays

Benaka, recently performed Chandrashekhara Kamabar’s Jokumaraswamy at Puttana Chetty Town Hall, as a part of the Bengalore Habba celebrations. It was heartening to see the troupe performing to a full house, especially at the Puttana Chetty Townhall, which theatre troupes seem to have forgotten. One wonders why this auditorium was chosen for Kannada plays in the Habba. B.V. Karanth directed the play in 1972, for a high profile cast ranging from Girish Karnad to Nagabharana, who then was a young upcoming actor himself. Jokumaraswamy is about a bully, anostentatious zamindar, called Gowda (T.S. Girish), who is keen on keeping superstition, fear and illiteracy intact in his village. He has a roving eye and does not spare any woman. He woos Ningi (Nandini Murthy) for six months, before being overpowered by Gurya (Pavan). However the reality, denied by him, yet obvious to all is his impotency.

He is impotent not just in the matter of women but other areas as well. His wife Gowdti (Vidhya Venkataram) pines for a child. The tale is set around a day that is auspicious to Jokumaraswamy, the unseen protagonist and the god of virility.

The play shows Gowdti moving from being a devoted and neglected wife to one who accepts the love of Basannya (Mico Manju) a victim of the Gowda’s scheming ways. The play in itself does not judge the love between the Gowdti and Basannya. Gowda instigates the objection and the final murder of Basannya.

It seemed that the set of the play was kept simple to highlight Gowda’s massiveness. The costumes immediately create the feel of the folk. T. S. Nagabharana, easily set the pace of the play.

Gowda’s four flunkies were energetic, while Gowda was commendable and Mico Manju powerful. Vidya Venkataraman was a tad disappointing as Gowdti.

The mention of the parrot was lost, and probably not understood by an audience not acquainted with the play. Pavan stands out as Gurya, with his perfect comic timing and his acting abilities. Nandini Murthy as Ningi shows potential.

The songs are melodious and hummable. However, the constant discussion among the members of the mela was distracting. As singers, the mela, led by Kalpana Naganath, Srinath and Vijaya performed well.

Benaka’s attempt to train new, young artists for the play, keeping B.V. Karanth’s original directorial design is commendable. However one wonders if there are chances for fresh ideas to emerge by younger directors within the team?

Roopantara performed Mussanje Katha Prasanga based on P. Lankesh’s novel. The play directed by KSDC Chandru was scripted by Basavaraj.

The play, about the Veershaiva community, ridicules characters like Barmanna (Eshwar Dalla), who lay down the tenets to be followed by the people of his community. “How can Rangamma (Y.N. Uma) a milk seller and money lender ask for interest from the people of her own community?” “What about her daughter Savantri (Poornima), how can she marry a low caste man?” The play speaks of man’s low tolerance for successful women. Schemes and plots are made and executed. But all fall flat in front of the strong resolve of Rangamma not to succumb to the men. She easily lashes out her loud and acerbic tongue.Paradoxically, the play throws open hypocrisies of the men of the village who point fingers at Rangamma, who is the harbingerof what they perceive as ills. While Rangamma’s tirades do generate laughter, one wonders at the extremely abusive language she uses. The black humour goes completely unnoticed. The first part of the play is engaging. However, with the introduction of the characters Udupa (Chandru) and Mumtaz (Vinuta) the play loses its innate strength. Also wished the play wasn’t so long.

The light and music design of the play seemed to borrow greatly from the company style of plays. The stage setting was good. However, the production needs more refinement before it makes an impact.

DEEPTHI SHEKAR
The Hindu
22nd December 2006