Gulzar and Salim Arif come together to engage young minds with a Hindi adaptation of Pinocchio that premieres this weekend
Dressed in purple shorts, a yellow shirt, blue bow tie and reflective sunglasses, the little Pinocchio stands still on stage at Prithvi Theatre in Juhu. The toy puppet, made by wood carver Geppetto, is being brought to life by a winged fairy. Once alive, he flexes his muscles with a few robotic moves, before breaking into a dance, singing, 'Ta ta dhin dhin tir kit ta'. Six singers and a mini orchestra, led by music composer Sudeep Banerjee, standing in the shadows next to the stage, perform the chorus.
Lubna Salim, Salim Arif and Gulzar at the rehearsal. Pics/Milind Saurkar
In another scene, Pinocchio reappears, bogged down by a nose [a rubber prop] that's overgrown because he lied. With a group of dancers, he croons, "Khatarnaak hui jaati hai… yeh naak". As the lights come on, Gulzar, who has been watching the 60-minute dress rehearsal with director Salim Arif and costume designer-producer Lubna Salim in rapt attention, breaks into applause.
"Yeh naak badi khatarnaak hai," laughs the wordsmith, alluding to the haunting composition and the fake nose, showering praise on the 35 member cast, including 12-year-old Shreya Acharya, who essays the lead. This weekend, the musical produced by Essay Communications premieres as part of a summer carnival at Prithvi.
A scene where the puppet encounters Billi and Lomdi
Meet the Hindi puppet
Penned by Italian writer Carlos Collodi in 1883, the epic children's novel, The Adventures of Pinocchio, has been adapted in different languages worldwide. "However, I didn't find a Hindustani adaptation. I improvised to include an Indian setting, and took the liberty of making it a musical," says the poet-writer, whose career has been peppered with writings for children, whether lyrics and dialogues for TV series like The Jungle Book and Alice In Wonderland, co-directing Potli Baba Ki or doing the narration for Karadi Tales audio books.
"Since film is a medium I'm familiar with, I felt Pinocchio would work as animation. But Salim Arif has adapted it beautifully to stage. I trust him with my plays," smiles the octogenarian, turning towards Arif, who says, "We always find a new story in his treasure trove."
In the past, the duo has collaborated on Chakkar Chalaaye Ghanchakkar, Arrey O Henry and Kachche Kamhe based on Gulzar's Urdu short story, Seema. Arif has also staged children's plays like Agar Aur Magar (Gulzar's adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's The One Who Said Yes and the One Who Said No) and Googly Jhanak Jaayein (based on a short story, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, written for the stage by Gulzar). But this production hasn't been a cakewalk. Arif reasons, "With the kind of exposure children are getting these days, you have to create a world that is attractive enough, otherwise, they get bored. You need to use strong visuals because words won't have the same effect."
And so, the production is replete with Hindi rhymes, modern Rap, massive props and a segment where dancers perform to Jai Ho under cool UV lights. "There's a misconception that children's plays don't need a good budget. This production is 10 times more expensive than our regular plays," he shares.
Children's theatre is still trying to find a ground in Mumbai. Gulzar observes, "You rarely see someone make new plays for children. They largely end up adapting old stories." He also asserts that evoking imagery when writing for children isn't easy. "It's more difficult than writing for adults. You need to become a child to know their world. It can't be taught or imbibed."
The collaborators concur that patronising kids through plays is also futile. Arif cites the instance of the Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, known for works like The Little Mermaid and The Ugly Duckling. "He wasn't preachy at all. Most of his stories, though for children, had a sad ending. Like, The Little Match Girl." Gulzar chimes in, "Oh yes, I have adapted that into Hindi too."
Acharya walks in, sans the fake nose. She has been part of a dance reality show, and was introduced to Arif by the play's choreographer, Srikant Ahire. In fact, the entire cast is part of his dance troupe. "Learning Hindi pronunciations was tough. I would say them in my sleep too," she smiles. Gulzar chides her, imitating Pinocchio by folding a piece of paper into a fake nose. "I indulge myself with children. I've been writing for them since the early days. So, I haven't been able to grow up."
Watching him, we have to agree, he isn't lying.
Pinocchio around the world
ON: May 13 and 14, 12 pm and 4 pm
AT: Janki Kutir, Juhu.
LOG ON TO: Bookmyshow.com
ENTRY: Rs 300
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