A troupe of differently abled children from West Bengal brought alive "Dakghar" (Post Office) a play by Rabindranath Tagore, at the inauguration of the National School of Drama's 11th National Theatre Festival for Children - Jashnebachpan.
Written by Tagore a century ago, the play directed by Sushanta Mondal saw the troupe of deaf and dumb children from Bodhir Bidya Bhawan take to the stage last evening.
Bringing alive the story of a child Amal, who is ill and thus confined to his home on doctor's orders, the actors created such a vivid picture of his life and desires that the audience burst into spontaneous applause after almost every scene.
"While their cognitive abilities might be limited, they have an incredible power over other senses that makes characters come alive," says theatre artist Mohan Agashe, who starred as Amal as a child artist and was the chief guest on the occasion.
The veteran actor who is also a psychiatrist says he believes the differently-abled children are much better at bringing out the emotions through their acting and expressions on stage.
Director Sushanta Mondal agrees with him. "They don't get distracted at all and work with so much concentration. So, while originally Dakghar is dialogue based, I was confident we could pull it off," he says.
Mondal lists optimism as one of the shining traits of young Amal. "It is through his imagination and will that he can live so much more than what his life allows him," he adds.
In the play, written by Tagore in 1912, Amal is confined to seeing the outside world only through his home's window on account of his sickness. He interacts with the various individuals who pass in front of it as he yearns to travel to see for himself about places he has only heard about. When a post office opens near his home, all the child wants is a letter from the King to set him free.
Meanwhile, he interacts with others through the window and dreams of engaging in all the different activities, even as his disease progresses.
Kishalay Ray played the lead character. The background music with minimal instruments, simple props and stage lighting were put to perfect use in the hour-long play.
The play was told completely without any dialogues and included only some narration in Bengali. The different characters of the play– doctor, curd seller, a dancing group and several others – had the audience in splits one second only to be left wondering about Amal's fate in a poignant moment seconds later.
Mondal, who was presented with a memento for his direction, says he first came across this form of silent theatre in 2006 when a troupe from Sweden came visiting.
"When I saw them perform, I thought about replicating it too," he says. Since then, despite the limited opportunities available for showcasing his students' talents, Mondal continues his efforts in the field saying seeing his students happy is his biggest reward.
Agashe, who was a part of Sai Paranjape's children theatre group in the 1960s says the process helps youngsters discover themselves.
"Our education system just focuses on physical survival. But what about development of other sensory systems for mental survival," he says.
Pointing out that acting comes naturally to children, Agashe says he hopes more schools will bring activities like drama and other arts into the mainstream instead of classifying them as 'extra-curricular' activities so that children can pursue their interests as they deem fit.
"We cannot learn from books what we can learn from plays," he says.
Besides 14 other plays in 10 languages, the 11-day festival will have two more performances by special children.
These include "Buddhuram" on November 20 and "Dastaan-E- Dilli" on the closing day November 28.