Bengali trio's play date with babies in UK

A Bengali play had around 30 babies aged six to 18 months chortling in Cardiff.

By Chandreyee Ghose in Calcutta
  • Published 20.03.18

Calcutta: A Bengali play had around 30 babies aged six to 18 months chortling in Cardiff.

The 18-minute performance by Calcutta-based actor and graphic designer Pavel Paul was among three plays for babies - all by Bengali artistes - staged in the UK recently.

A year ago, Pavel would not have dreamt of performing before an audience so young. "I did not even know it was possible to develop a proper play for babies," said the Dum Dum resident.

Pavel's Ranna Hari peppered with Bengali words won hearts in Wales. The show-stealer was a song about "ranna" and a dance with a " hanri". By the end of all three shows, the babies wanted to play with chaal (rice) and dal and their parents knew what khichudi was.

Fellow Bengalis - Sananda Mukhopadhyaya from Mumbai and Sanyukta Saha from Delhi - also enthralled the young audience with their plays, part of a collaboration between Theatre Iolo and ThinkArts to develop plays for babies below 18 months.

The Indian artistes were guided by Sarah Argent and Kevin Lewis, who have been performing for babies around the UK and other countries for over a decade.

The Welsh duo performed their 25-minute interactive piece, Out of The Blue, for babies in Calcutta last year. They had also conducted two workshops with 12 Indian artistes on how to create plays for babies.

"Having developed our own performances for babies, we were increasingly being asked to pass the baton on. It has been wonderful to see Pavel, Sananda and Sanyukta transcend from knowing nothing about theatre for babies to performing and engaging them," Sarah said.

Kevin said working with Indian artistes was an enriching experience. "It has sharpened our own art. We learnt about the theatre traditions in India as the performers fused these with our philosophy and methods."

For Sananda, 30, it was her first tryst with acting. "I knew about theatre for toddlers but this turned out to be a whole new learning experience," said the theatre educator, who has earlier been involved with the technical aspects on stage.

Her play Warp and Weft is about a child spending some me-time at a clothes store, discovering fabrics and playing dress-up. "I have memories of doing just that as a child, with bed sheets," said Sananda, who performed her 20-minute piece twice at different venues. "I thought a play for babies had to be more sensorial but Sarah and Kevin taught me how I needed to develop a plot and engage with an audience, irrespective of age."

Pavel realised language may not be a barrier with babies, but it is important to connect. "We had to keep in mind that a baby has no pre-conceived notions," he said.

Connecting with parents is as important, felt Sanyukta. Her play Ghar focuses on the theme of migration. "I have worked with kids through theatre for 14 years. Creating a play for babies is very different from writing a play for toddlers. One needs to study the psychological development of a baby before coming up with a play for them," she said.

The trio hope to reach out to young ones in their cities.

"After Out of the Blue, we were flooded with enquiries from parents who wanted more plays for their babies. There aren't many entertainment options for little ones. We hope to present Ranna Hari by April and more such plays in future," said Ruchira Das, the founder of ThinkArts.

The Theatre for Babies project was an initiative of British Council and Wales Art International.