No child’s play

Ambika Shaligram
Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Artist Meena Naik brings to Pune three performances meant for children which also commemorate Marathi litterateur Ram Ganesh Gadkari’s centenary year

On this World Theatre Day for Children and Young Audience (March 20), take your child and his/her friends to watch a play, meant for them. Bringing to Pune three theatrical performances, precisely for this reason, is Meena Naik, a veteran theatre artist and puppeteer from Mumbai. 

Naik, who has been working on children-related social issues through theatre and puppets for last  four decades, is also the vice-president of ASSITEJ India. ASSITEJ or Association of Theatre for Young Audiences, is an international organisation with 87 countries as its participants. It began as a movement after Second World War, and sought to help children who were impacted by the war and the ravages it brought. 

“To pull them out of the trauma, ASSITEJ started as a movement to present plays which would address the issues of these children. The idea was that adults would enact the roles of children and address their issues. ASSITEJ observes March 20 as World Theatre Day for Children and Young Audience and its tagline is ‘Take a Child to the Theatre Today’,” says Naik. 

The one day festival, jointly organised by Maharashtra State Cultural Affairs Department, Kalsootri and Maharashtra Cultural Centre, will be held at Sudarshan Rangmanch, Shaniwar Peth.  

Naik and her team will be commemorating Marathi litterateur Ram Ganesh Gadkari’s centenary year through the programmes that they have planned. Rajiv Tambe, children’s writer, actors Saksham Kulkarni and Ritika Shrotri who have their roots in children’s theatre, will be the chief guests for the evening.

“Three students — Atharva Kane, Vedant Paranjape and Sai Kunte — will be enacting two scenes from Gadkari’s humourous play, Prem Sanyas. Akshay Shimpi will be reading out (mono-act) from Gadkari’s Sakalacha Abhyas and Deed Pani Natak. Kalpesh Samel and Pratiksha Khasnis, from Tiny Tales, will present dramatised reading, storytelling of Kapila and Elmer Hatti. These performances will be in the evening, whereas in the morning, Samel, Khasnis and I, will hold a workshop for teachers of municipal schools on how to make use of theatre in teaching,” says Naik.

“The thrust will be on improvisation. For example, how can they dramatise a simple tale like Chal re bhoplya tunuk tunuk. We will have short modules on voice modulation and so on. And, then we will ask the teachers if there is any lesson they would like to dramatise in this fashion. We will teach them to improvise on their inputs,” she adds. 

On March 21, which has been declared as World Puppetry Day by Unesco, Naik has planned another event. “I have been observing and celebrating both the days — March 20 and March 21 — by conceptualising a few programmes and performances in Mumbai. But this year, I will be holding a special show on puppetry in Nagpur on the request of Cultural Affairs department. Instead of March 21, we will be holding the show on March 25, because of Dhulivandan on the said day,” says Naik, who is the head of Puppetry Department at University of Mumbai.

She then goes on to underline the importance of these days. “Why do we celebrate Theatre Day or Puppetry Day? It is because we need to highlight the state that they are in. We want more people to be a part of these art forms because they are apathetic about Kalsootri kala (puppetry) or even theatre. Even when we have children’s theatre festival, parents don’t take the efforts to take them to an auditorium, instead they put on a DVD for them. In Western countries, they have theatre for ages 0-18 years. In India, we need to instill this discipline amongst our children by taking them to the theatre. When you go to an auditorium to watch a play, you grow up to be a good citizen,” she stresses. 

In Nagpur, her students of Mumbai University, will have two shows — one is Ganapati dance through puppets, followed by storytelling. Naik has also invited a Beni Putul artist. “There is a nomadic tribe in West Bengal. They are well-versed with this art form of glove puppetry. Like many other art forms, this too does not have many takers and practitioners. Only one artist represents Beni Putul puppetry. We have invited him to the show and he will also be conducting a workshop for interested participants,” she adds. 

A reason enough for those living in Pune and Nagpur to watch theatre for children and puppetry. 

Kalpesh Samel and Pratiksha Khasnis, who won the Goshtarang fellowship, offered by Atul Kulkarni and Geetanjali Kulkarni’s NGO, Quest, worked in adivasi padas (tribal hamlets) for a year, telling and performing stories. 

“Under this fellowship, the five of us selected from across the state, worked with the tribal children, to get them to study, read, explore language skills and so on. When I was working there, I realised why not use the same approach more widely? Why not use theatre for creating social awareness and education?,” says Samel.

Currently based in Pune, Samel and Khasnis have set up an organisation, Tiny Tales, under which they conduct several programmes for children. “Our aim is to introduce the urban kids to a world, away from their screens. How can we tap their energies into doing something constructive?  How can they start reading, how can they start writing is what we work on. We identify and recognise what kids needs and then plan workshops accordingly,” adds Samel, who will be narrating stories on World Theatre Day for Children and Young Audience. 

Maharashtra State Cultural Affairs Department, Kalsootri and Maharashtra Cultural Centre and Meena Naik present three theatrical performances for children and young adults and workshops for teachers on March 20. The workshop for teachers will be held from 11 am to 2 pm, whereas the performances will be presented from 4 to 6 pm at Sudarshan Rangmanch, Shaniwar Peth

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