What does it mean to be a Christian? Or a Muslim? How does one explain ‘religion’ to children? Actor-writer Vibhawari Deshpande grappled with these questions when her 13-year-old daughter, Radha, tried to make sense of the socio-political situation surrounding her.
“When I was growing up, religion didn’t seep into my consciousness in the way and manner it did with Radha. For the longest time, to me, religion meant how we lived. Then Babri Masjid happened and the discourse changed. However, Radha has been reading about, hearing about blasts and violence associated with religion from a very young age. Maybe somewhere biases crept in. For instance, she would assume that all White people were Christians. Or Muslims were to be feared. So we kept talking about religion, rituals et all with her,” explains Deshpande about the story germ for a new GRIPS play — Jamba Bamba Boo.
The play has been written jointly by Deshpande and Shrirang Godbole, whom she calls her ‘mentor’. The two have mostly been on the same page when it came to penning plays. However, Jamba Bamba Boo was an exception. “We argued a lot. Ranga is a strong atheist and so his approach was completely different from mine. I am not an overtly religious person; I don’t do any rituals. I think I am an agnostic...so yes, there were differences while writing the play. Plus, Ranga has become a grandfather now. So he has a new reference point,” she added.
Radhika Kakatkar Ingale, who has directed the play, explains, “Like all GRIPS plays, Jamba Bamba Boo will encourage kids to ask questions, and the adults to search for the answers.”
The protagonist of the play is Mowgli, the man cub, growing up in the jungle. “Bagheera (Harshad Rajpathak) thinks that Mowgli (Saksham Kulkarni) being a human kid has to live with his tribe. So he and Balu (Devendra Saralkar) bring Mowgli to the city to get him admitted in a school. The school and people around him want to know Mowgli’s identity, ‘where does he come from?’. Thus Mowgli finds himself caught in a series of funny experiences and harsh realities. He realises that life in jungle was much more simpler — a sher is a sher and is treated the same by all. But in human world, people are treated differently. The adult grown-ups are much more dangerous than the predators in the forest...” Godbole explains the plot of the play.
“We needed an outsider’s perspective — someone who looks into the society s/he is living in, for whom all this is new. Initially, we thought we would have an orphan as our hero. But Mowgli seemed a better choice. He comes with a blank state,” adds Ingale.
Jamba Bamba Boo is a clear comment and observation on our society. “Although the play is meant for a specific age group, there is a very clear comment on the external factors like teachers, parents, neighbours etc - from a child’s point of view. The adults in the audience may find the observations revealing, surprising and maybe even unsettling,”adds Godbole.
The play, which is meant for everyone above five years of age, has some great songs — which is again typical of Godbole-Deshpande collaboration. “There are many songs in the play and Gandhar (Sangoram) has done the music. In some sequences, it’s closer to a musical,” he says.
“I love writing songs. I can’t imagine a play, especially a GRIPS play, without songs. The songs in Jamba Bamba Boo take the narrative forward,” points out Deshpande.
The song-dance treatment of the GRIPS play allows the young audience to make the journey from known to the unknown and makes them feel hopeful. “Hopeful is the key word here. GRIPS ideology believes that the kids should feel hopeful when they leave the theatre. At the end of this play too, Mowgli and the kids will realise that the human world is not all that bad,”concludes Ingale.
ST Reader Service
Jamba Bamba Boo will be staged at Maharashtra Cultural Centre’s Balrang Mahotsav, at 7.00 PM on May 19 and on May 20 at Jyotsna Bhole Sabhagruha, Tilak Road