When I knew that Ranga Shankara was premiering a play under their AHA! banner, which promotes theatre for children, I was very keen to attend the first show, and I did so, on the 11th of August, 2011.
AHA! is Ranga Shankara’s Theatre for Children programme in association with Britannia Industries Ltd., "Dhaam Dhoom Suntaragaali", in Kannada, is a play based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, adapted by T Vaidehi. It is directed by directed by Jeevan Ram Sulya and is in association with the troupe "Natana" of Mysore.
Designed especially for children, the play takes children on a wonderful journey across oceans! Both Vaidehi and the director Jeevan RamSulya ensure that the underlying message of the play — of colonisation and loss of language, or th identity of indigenous people, is driven home…but in a most entertaining way.
And entertainment there was, in plenty. The curtain rose with the signature "AHA!" song, sung by childen, to a foot-tapping beat.
Beginning with the costumes, which were rich and colourful, and the expressive body paint and decorations that the cast wore, to the superb special effects with ultra-violet light that were staged with panache…the children, and the adults in the audience were cheering the cast and crew to the echo, very often indeed.
Elements of magic and fun, simple language, lilting music and colourful costumes came together to paint a canvas of magic for the audience. Indeed, there was no need to know Kannada at all, in order to enjoy the play; the story almost told itself in the actions of the characters, both good and evil.
The original play by Shakespeare, "The Tempest", The Tempest is about a nobleman and his group who are caught in a storm, are shipwrecked and end up on an island inhabited by a tribe of people whose customs and language are strange and different. One does not understand the other. The play tells the story of Prospero the nobleman who is also a magician, Cabalis and Ariel, two completely different people who inhabit the island; one a cannibal, another a kind of fairy. In the play, the cannibal and the sprite are called "Kiratana" and "kinnara", and are treated as humanid beings.
I must mention Kinnara, particularly. The young man, Karthik, who played Ariel’s role was so lithe and lissom that it was a joy to watch him floating like a butterfly across the stage, often just touching the characters with the tip of his robes…and the magic of his master., who is called Mantra Buddhi in the play. Two friends, called Shakti Samanta and Yukti Samanta in the production, added to the colour woven on stage.
From the very first scene, where the boat sails merrily across the stage and is then broken by the storm, the special effects were beautifully wrought, and had the audience gasping in surprise, sometimes. The lights, operated by Anna Murthy, and the choreography, were extremely professionally organized.
The musicians sat in the pit area at one end of the stage, and their voices and instruments truly added to the overall effect and mood being portrayed. When the princess, in true fairy story style, falls in love with the young man, the young woman singing for her brought out all the sweetness of first love. Even the cannibal appeared in the guise of a good-hearted being, who is upset over his native island being taken over by others…a situation that has happened to countless native peoples all over the world. When Mantra Buddhi’s daughter asks him, "You were so angry when your brother usurped your home and business and threw you out…why are you doing the same thing to the inhabitants of this island?" we, in the audience, felt the force of her argument.
At the same time, the moral issues were never belaboured, and everything was done to make it a fun experience for the children, who were often roaring with laughter at the antics of Kiratana or Kinnara, or the various human beings who have been marooned on the island. When, at last, Mantra Buddhi sets Kinnara the tree sprite free, there was a spontaneous cheer from the audience! When the loving couple suddenly find a colourful plant bursting forth from the rock, in a well-done piece of magic, there was a collective gasp of appreciation from all the children…and their grown-up families, too! This blend of theatre, shadow play, and magic is surely a winning combination for this production.
Ananya, who had come with her mother, Sharada, to watch the play, says that she often comes to watch AHA! productions, and enjoys them all. Her happy face, like those of the other children in the auditorium, told its own story of the efficacy with which Ranga Shankara is spreading the message of theatre amongst the children of Bangalore.
A very colourful, entertaining evening of theatre for both the young and young-at-heart…."Dham Dhoom Suntaragaali" is highly recommended as a must-watch!
There is one more show on 21 August, at 7.30 pm, but this play is sure to be repeated at Ranga Shankara….so be sure to watch it! ⊕