When not pretending to be a ‘frog’ or an ‘elephant’, thespian Naseeruddin Shah appeared to be quite enjoying Vikram Seth’s modern fables told in verses. On Monday morning, he, along with wife Ratna Pathak and daughter Heeba, read out a selection of poems from Seth’s book Beastly Tales from Here and There in Mumbai. In these poems, the amusing, perceptive, and sometimes scary parallels between humans and animals reflect the best and worst in us.
Over the years, Naseeruddin has established his love for literature through a number of productions by his theatre group Motley. Just before the premiere show of The Elephant and the Tragopan and other poems by Vikram Seth at Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre, he said that plays are difficult to read compared to novels, and poems are tougher than plays. So, Motley’s newest work is an attempt to make poetry more accessible. “We thought it would be a good idea to introduce children to performing in verse, and convey to them that there is much more to poetry than just rhyming couplets,” said Naseeruddin, who has directed Katha Collage 1 and 2, Ismat Aapa Ke Naam and Manto Ismat Hazir Ho, among others.
Presented as part of Summertime@Prithvi in Mumbai, the production included dramatised reading of The Eagle and the Beetle, The Louse and the Mosquito, The Snake and the Mouse and The Elephant and the Tragopan. According to Ratna, these poems are meant to be read out aloud, as most poems are. “It has an expressive language, wonderful characters, great stories and lots to think about, all together in one entertaining mix,” she added.
The show had a bare set with three functional chairs kept at the centre of the stage. “As in storytelling, it’s a great challenge to perform on stage without all the trappings. Reciting the verse is great fun, which I hope transmits itself to the listener,” said Heeba.
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The cast leaves the city on Tuesday for a show on May 16 at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.