Theatre group Koothu-P-Pattarai's recently-concluded children's play based on the tales of Panchatantra, is a lesson in moral values
For playwright and director KS Karuna Prasad and his team at Koothu-P-Pattrai (founded by N Muthuswamy in 1977), a Chennai-based experimental theatre group, their latest production, Anju Panch (Five Punch) in Tamil, was a complete shift from their usual plays. For the first time, Koothu-P-Pattrai has come up with a children's play based on the tales of Panchatantra, and was staged for a week in the city.
Prasad, who was trained by N Muthuswamy, has directed over 25 plays. “With 36 years of experience in theatre, I envisaged an exclusive production for children in the age group of five to 15. I chose the theme from Panchatantra. Since it is a fairy tale, even plants and animals converse with humans. As the target audience were kids, it also is the best way to convey moral values,” he says.
Anju Punch is an adaptation of selected stories from Panchatantra and deals with five different stories, over 80 minutes. The interactive play begins with the narrator introducing each segment and later conveys the moral of the story.
Transformation on stage
“I approached this project with a two-pronged idea,” says Prasad, adding, “I decided to use masks for this production. Therefore, now the challenge for actors was that, they could not show their facial expressions. However, they conveyed the essence through body movements and by performing specific character traits of the animal they were portraying. The actors had to transform into the animal and also wear animated masks, which were designed to allow jaw movements.”
Beneath the mask
- The expressive masks for Anju Punch were designed by Aazhi E Venkatessin, guest lecturer, department of drama, Tanjore Tamil University. “Karuna approached me last year with this mask project and I was fascinated by the varied expressions that I could bring out in the mask. I began to attend rehearsals in order to understand the characteristics of each animal that was being portrayed.”
- Koothu-P-Pattarai has a stylised way of performing and Venkatessin had to keep their style into consideration while making the masks. It had to be light, flexible and more importantly, within the budget. A combination of thermo and MM foam sheets were used to make these masks. The biggest challenge, however, was designing masks with animation (jaw movement) in order to make it entertaining for the audience.
The director is also keen on taking theatre into educational campuses. He feels that theatre in education, where the art of drama could be used as an effective educational tool, is not yet explored by our curriculum. ‘I wanted to explore the role of drama in pedagogy though this play as an experiment for campus theatre,” says Karuna.
The play, which was supposed to be staged in March last year, was stalled due to the pandemic. It was finally brought to an audience at The Spaces, Besant Nagar, last week. “I am glad that the play got delayed. We have had the opportunity to cheer up the children with a live performance after being confined to homes for such a long period. The pandemic scare has affected the young and the old. More importantly, it has affected children who are now exposed to smartphones,” says Karuna, adding, “The play is not only for children, but for the child in every adult.”
Koothu-P-Pattarai plans to stage the play in schools across the city and gradually take it to other parts of the State. “I believe that such playful and animated performance will appeal to children between the age group five and 15. Since it is an interactive play, the children would shed their inhibitions and come forward to participate. That is how learning takes place,” he adds.