At the inauguration of the bi-annual children's urban theatre festival, "Jashn-e-Bachpan", a group of challenged children gave Rabindranath Tagore's play a contemporary colour with fusion music, mime and body language acting.
The 11-day festival from Nov 18 opened with Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore's play "Dakghar" with actors mainly comprising hearing- and speech-impaired children of the Bodhir Bidya Bhavan, a holistic school for the challenged in Burdwan in West Bengal.
Director of the National School of Drama Anuradha Kapur said, "The play was chosen because of its sheer beauty and novelty of interpretation on stage by challenged children". The focus of NSD's bi-anuual theatre festival this year is theatre by challenged children, she added.
The play is a heart-wrenching tale of a dying child, Amal, yearning for freedom from the dim confines of his room with a window that lets in the world outside like a sliver of sun's ray.
In the play, Amal, who is in his uncle's house, becomes a complex symbol of time, freedom, stagnation, mechanisation, and the life and death cycle of mankind.
He sits by the window watching birds, stray animals and the hawkers selling sweetmeats and curd. He calls out to them, befriends them and listens to their tales from yonder lands beyond the hills.
In the process, Amal gathers around him a group of stray cats who forge a silent bonding with the sick boy. The children in the neighbourhood gradually take to computers, becoming Internet junkies.
Their life cycles revolve around the keyboard. They die several deaths as they age over their keyboards. Their sensibilities wither and thoughts stunt. The children die as doddering old men outside Amal's window.
Time gradually catches up with Amal too and he succumbs to his disease one evening.
Director Susanta Mondal, a stage artiste from Bankura in West Bengal, who collaborated with the special children, put together a cast of a majority of special and some normal children in an attempt to bridge the gap between the "able and disabled".
"We wanted them to feel normal like other children. Theatre and culture is our way of mainstreaming special children in our school that also provides vocational training to them," Bodhir Bidya Bhavan principal Stuti Devi Mukherjee told IANS.
"The original play has powerful dialogue and interesting exchanges. I had to adapt it for children whose world is mute," Mondal said. "I used Manipuri, Chhau and modern dance in place of dialogue. Teaching deaf children to match steps with music was difficult. I had to convey the rhythm to them in mime to make them understand the beats," the director said.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)