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Indian tales from a different perspective



"Speaking Stories"... enriched by simplicity.

THEATRE TRIEBWERK can tell stories exceptionally well. When Max Mueller Bhavan announced the return of the group with their latest venture, "Speaking Stories," Chennai remembered their brilliant production, "A Friend for Bolton the Lion," which toured India two years ago. The audience gathered at the Music Academy, armed with heightened expectations for a `comparative enjoyment' of the evening.

The stories they told last week were drawn from the wealth of Indian folktales. Max Mueller Bhavan, Chennai convinced them about the concept and arranged for interactive sessions with local theatre groups, so Martina Van Boxen and her actors could figure out how best to `present the Indian theme from a western European perspective' and adapt it to the forms prevalent in India.' They returned home with a book of Indian folk tales to source from.

That, briefly, is how ``Speaking Stories" happened, when Daimler Chrysler sponsored the tour.

``Speaking Stories" is a story within stories and associated stories. A farmer, a farm hand, and the narrator tell these in the best of traditions.

With the only two tools an actor has, his voice and his body, Eric Schaffler, Uwe Schade (Bolton the Lion Team) and Christina Lisperoglou brought alive rural Bhopal or Gujarat as the case was. The familiar narrative structure, to the accompaniment of live music form a cello and a saxophone, wooed the audience into submission. There was the story of the farmer and the farm hand who `passed time' by telling stories. There was the ongoing `base' story of the guru and the Sishyas crossing the river and that of the man who turned statue. There were other stories that dealt with Brahmins and people of other communities in Madhya Pradesh, Muslims and Hindus in Gujarat. Using their strengths, body language, mime and exquisite choreography the three actors created myriad characters and landscapes in quick succession. While on their last trip they signified the Lion clan with a flick of their stoles or brought to life the exotic courtesan with a play of the eye, this time they created the unforgettable Brahmin with the motives of armpit scratching, belching and belly button digging! Just a bend and a lift of the right leg brought on a most charming Brahma. They crowded the stage with sultans, daughters, princesses, Hindus and Muslims.

The simplicity of the production enriched it. Seven red drapes hung against the dark backdrop produced depth while closing in the stage to create intimate space. Four classroom chairs that were moved around helped signify houses, doors, mountains, any locale they wished.

The stories raised relevant issues. Issues of caste and gender discrimination, communal violence and religious intolerance. The hour and a half of story telling suggested that the way out would be to stop being fatalistic. What Brahma writes on a child's forehead at his or her birth is perhaps indelible. But you can stand it on its head, work around it and score a number on Brahma himself.

For example, in the first story two children are born. The boy grows into a man and plays out the writing on his head that he will always have some grain and a cow and nothing else and plenty of hard work. His friend, the Brahmin, figures a way out. Sell the cow and the grain, eat your fill, and give away the rest. Brahma is not one to go back on his word. He ensures that every time the farmer indulges in the sell and live well tactic, he replaces the grain and the cow. For the girl it was written that forever she would be a prostitute. The Brahmin's advice to her is, open the door only to the man who would come with a bowl of pearls. There are not too many bowls of pearls going in rural Madhya Pradesh and Brahma is at his wits' end collecting pearls while the girl has a great time selling them instead of her body.

This story drew mixed responses from the audience. Some thought it was a welltold, clever, story. Some saw it as an unfortunate choice (the girl being damned a prostitute) as theme for a Children's Day special. Others saw in it Brahmin bashing. Yet others objected to _`crude behavioural characteristics' that signified the Indian... But then, what the group has given is their perspective of India and for us it should just be an exercise in seeing ourselves through someone else's eyes and from a different perspective.

However, in ``Speaking Stories," one missed the depth of understanding which they brought to their last production and which would have enriched their rendering of the complexity and the nuances which weave the fabric that is India. One also missed the richness of music that they shared before with Chennai.

ELIZABETH ROY

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