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The Playground of Theatre

In its third edition, the international children’s theatre festival, Tifli, rolls outs six plays, workshops and masterclasses.

Written by Radhika Singh |
December 4, 2016 11:56:58 pm
Shadow, play, Santanil Ganguly, Kolkata-based theatre group, theatre group Jhalapala, Tifli, children’s theatre festival, children's theatre, indian theatre, indian plays, india news, indian express news Scenes from French production Play.

SEATED in his office cubicle, a middle-aged man gets annoyed by the smallest things — a fan that makes an inordinate amount of sound, or a television set that doesn’t respond when he presses the buttons of its remote, but immediately comes to life when someone else does. He’s a loner, unsurprisingly. But when his anger reaches its acme, he finds a friend in the one thing that doesn’t wind him up — his shadow.

That’s the rather quirky premise of Shadow, a play by Santanil Ganguly, the founder of Kolkata-based theatre group Jhalapala. This week, Shadow will be performed during Tifli, a three-day children’s theatre festival taking place in Mumbai from December 7 to 9. Tifli, which means “childhood” in Persian, is designed to expose children to Indian as well as international forms of theatre.

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Though now in its third year, it is the first time Tifli is being held in Mumbai. Delhi and Hyderabad hosted its previous editions. The roster includes productions, such as Play, by French company Cie La Boite, where an actor and a musician make their own universe using scotch tapes, shapes, action figures and toy cars; Dinosaur!, where the Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust make creatures with their puppets; and Mohan’s Masala by Mumbai-based Ideas Unlimited, which imagines the life of the Mahatma as a child. Tifli will also host nine workshops for children and people who work with them.

The festival made its debut three years ago, when Association Internationale du Theatre de l’Enfance et la Jeunesse (ASSITEJ), also known as the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People, decided to hold its annual meeting in India for the first time. Imran Khan, President of the India wing of ASSITEJ, thought it would be a good opportunity to showcase plays created in India for young people to the 70-odd visiting ASSITEJ members.

Little did he know that it would turn out to be an astounding success. Khan received 37 entries when ASSITEJ India made its first international call for submissions. Even though ASSITEJ India was unable to facilitate their travels, teams from Sri Lanka, Denmark, and Iran flew in on their own funds. A total of over 14,000 children turned up for the Tifli shows which were held only in the morning. Plays such as Mulla Naseeruddin by Rangshankara from Bangalore, were performed, where sand art was used to create the backdrop for scenes.

“Increasingly, schools have started to realise that theatre develops children not only as artists, but also as human beings,” says Khan. Shaili Sathyu, founder of Gillo Repertory Theatre and the Festival Director of Tifli Mumbai, adds, “Teachers in general are aware of the importance of the arts. They realise that theatre is a space to develop children’s aesthetic sensibilities, expand their empathy and build confidence. It also encourages them to think critically about the world around them.”

Perhaps educators themselves enjoyed watching the plays during the festival — children’s plays are certainly not solely for children. Just as films such as ET and Jurassic Park, or animated movies such as Finding Nemo, have found fans in adults, children’s plays also appeal to all age-groups.

“Any good production created for children automatically becomes universal,” says Khan, adding, “Watching a children’s play transfers us back to that light-hearted, carefree period of our life. What adults take away from the play might be different but they enjoy it nonetheless.”

However, there are a few hurdles when it comes to creating quality children’s plays in India. The lack of training is one, as drama schools in India don’t teach dramaturgy specific to children, says Khan. Moreover, theatre groups don’t get enough opportunities to showcase their plays meant for children. The biggest obstacle is the lack of financial support. “We aren’t in a field that attracts a mass audience,” says Khan. “And funders want to give their money to projects they are tangible and quantifiable — the construction of schools or hospitals, for instance. But while medicine cures the body, art cures the soul,” he adds.

All performances and workshops will be held at PL Deshpande Maharashtra Kala Academy, Prabhadevi, Mumbai, unless specified otherwise.

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