When the Little Prince comes calling in Tamil
In the vast emptiness of the Sahara desert, a grown-up met a little prince and my life has never been the same since.
In the vast emptiness of the Sahara desert, a grown-up met a little prince and my life has never been the same since. Like the pilot who took to carrying around his Drawing Number One — of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant — and using it as a litmus test for fellow adults, I too held on to a vestige of its profoundness in the form of permanent ink. Then, on a rather uneventful Sunday afternoon, in a children’s home in a part of the city I am still unfamiliar with, I was revisited by that intimate profundity once again. Thanks to Lakshmipriyaa Chandramouli and Maya Krishnan. The Silk Route theatre’s revival of The Little Prince (in Tamil) was reaching out to children across the length and breadth of Chennai and in the process, creating a whole new generation of dreamers, introducing them to a world of boa constrictors, sheep in a box and tamed roses.
Of magic and method
“When Vasanth (Selvam), the director of the play, and I were discussing this initially, we wanted two things to happen when we do the play. There should be at least one child who goes ‘Oh what is this?!’ with that glow in their eyes; because it happened to all of us at some point. Or they should all sleep,” begins Maya Krishnan. Four shows down the road (since its revival last month), they were certainly happy to see more and more children of the first kind. As for the kids at the SOS Children’s Village in East Tambaram, they were far from falling asleep.
For this time around, the quiet, calm narrative of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry found expression through the exuberant and enthusiastic performance of the theatre duo. Here, the little prince was a wooden string puppet in a pink suit, then a paper cutout behind a shadow screen. Lakshmi and Maya took turns bringing alive the little man’s world and woes; just as much as they switched to being the lost grown-up. “We are using different forms of storytelling — there is live interaction, scene work, puppets, shadow puppetry. There are three-four forms of theatre in one play. And it’s quite difficult in a play like this where we have to show six planets and suddenly there is a fox that comes in, then a snake. I think it’s a great device and it was Vasanth’s idea to bring this in,” elaborates Lakshmipriyaa.
Treading new territory
Maybe that is precisely why the play in Tamil managed to hold the attention of all the kids in the audience. While the book itself was meant to be for children, Maya and Lakshmi have the arduous task of introducing them to a foreign world with unfamiliar elements and to theatre itself. As much as the kids seemed to enjoy what came their way, oohing and aahing at the right places, how much do they actually understand? Turns out, the artists have had far more luck with the children than adults. “I think children understand, they are with us in the story from the beginning. Very rarely adults are with us the same way. Sometimes kids get distracted and we are okay with it; they go, come back, and still watch it and enjoy the play,” shares Maya.
Speaking from her childhood experiences, Lakshmipriyaa suggests that even if the children don’t get everything out of the play now, it might hit in deeper as they grow older. “There are a lot of things that I’ve seen as a child that has left an impression on me in some way. As I grow, I recollect it and take something out of it. I think it is good even if that happens to a child because we are introducing them to the concept of theatre and the craft of acting. Even if one of these things stick with them and inspires them in any way, I think we’re good,” she says.
This is what has defined the duo’s mission with the play’s revival. After a premiere at Alliance Française of Madras, they have been visiting children in government schools and at neighbourhood activity halls and introducing them to kutti ilavarasan. “The idea is to host ten free shows for children, especially those who have no access to theatre,” says Maya. They have had the joy of performing to kids in Washermanpet, Besant Nagar and RA Puram; there’s several more lined up. The set-up is just that of two women and a trunk and it gives the team the freedom to go anywhere and perform for anyone interested, points out Lakshmipriyaa. Here’s hoping this piece of magic reaches you too.