Thursday, December 28, 2006

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.


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.

The Hindu
29th December 2006

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