Oasis Magazine Articles

The World is a Stage

By Riju Shrimali

It was in the early eighties when I stepped into gossipy, giggly, girlhood. Ours was a small town infested by convent schools with clearly defined codes of conduct. To add to our misery the place was thickly populated with parents who competed with schools to enforce strict discipline in lives of their children. The list of items that we girls were to abstain from was so many, that they would challenge any self-denouncing yogi! No nail paints, lipsticks, fashionable hair-dos, short skirts or tight blouses. No tea, coffee, candies or fizzy drinks! No male friends, no birthday invites from male friends, no exchanging course work with male neighbors, no educational exchange programs with schools for boys! What topped the list of no’s were Disco and Mithun Chakraborty (an emerging Bollywood actor).

Disco became a rage in India much after it peaked in the US and UK. It all happened in 1982, with the release of a movie called Disco Diwane (crazy about Disco) which also marked the entry of a new actor called Mithun Chakraborty. This was the time when the famous Bollywood actor, Mr. Amitabh Bachchan was slowly slipping into middle age, making space (albeit slowly) for younger, newer actors. Mr. Bachchan in most of his movies, played a hero who, propelled by his anger for corruption and poverty. Spent screen time in identifying and avenging himself on the perpetrators of these social ills. He offered a voyeuristic empowerment to the bulk of Indian population. But after almost a decade a sort of ennui had begun to set in among the audience with this angry hero. Mithun was one of the faces of changing trend of Indian cinema.

Despite the ban imposed on us, Mithun’s innocent face peered at us from barber shops. His intense eyes caught us from the rear of honking vehicles on the streets. We didn’t have television in our town. There were many cinema halls though. Some of our friends who had elder brothers, managed to persuade their parents to allow them watch the movie under aegis of an older sibling. These girls shared the story, scene by scene, with as much minutia as possible, with the rest of the less fortunate lot. The Disco themed songs from his movies blared from loudspeakers, during celebratory occasions which are not scarce in India. Our pencils danced on papers as Mithun made his moves in our minds’ eyes. Bollywood seeped into our lives, secretly, slowly and abundantly.


The drama troupe that we formed in the summer of 1983, was our attempt to legitimize presence of dance and song in our everyday lives. The troupe had 8 girls, including me, from the ages of 8-14 years. We got script ideas from magazines for kids, ensuring that each chosen story had overt moral values. Each story was meticulously converted into script with plenty of song and dance thrown in; we were cautious enough to mention the moral take in the introduction as well as at the end, before taking the final bow. We invited our parents to watch the play on a fixed evening. I remember us planning every detail without any adult assistance – costume, curtain, make-up, light and refreshment. I have no memory of any discord or argument among members of the troupe during this period. We were all motivated towards a common goal which was to dance fearlessly on Disco songs. This was a way to legitimatize our love for music and dance. Whenever I look back on my childhood, memories of this phase stand out with their optimism, enthusiasm, dream, vision, unity and bliss. I think we displayed amazing maturity in creating this opportunity of expression – there was no rebellion, no disobedience, no disharmony with authority yet it was an attempt to free our spirit against artificial restrictions. There was another positive – we could all apply make-up! I was one of the supporting casts and loved myself

under cake of lipstick and rouge.

Since then, my fascination for the art of drama has only increased, though in the humdrum of routine it lay dormant in some recess of my heart. Two years back my son was part of a Christmas play; he came back from dress rehearsal and refused to go for the final performance in the evening. “I have tummy ache”, he said. I gave him medicine. I talked with him about commitment, because I perceived that tummy ache was just an excuse for something deeper. “You know, mum, stop worrying about them. I’m not even important in the play. I stand behind and they wouldn’t even miss me”, he said. Then I understood. I discovered that my child had been too shy to audition for any of the critical roles. In fact, he had not understood the criticality of the whole thing. But something happened during the dress rehearsal, when parents came to take photos of their children. My boy was so hidden that I was unable to take any picture of him while on stage. Sadness dawned on him, which I could have handled better, but…

It was then that I donned the mantle of a play-director once again, after perhaps 20 years. In the past year or so, I have directed few skits/dance-dramas with kids in the age group 5-7 years for local clubs and schools. The experience has thrown some surprising emotions. I faced resistance from some parents who thought that their children may not perform well enough for an audience, consequently subjecting them to embarrassment. I met parents who felt that their child was too shy or too moody or too distracted to rehearse. I faced no resistance from my child actors, though, except maybe requests for a long break during rehearsals so that they could have a brief play date as well.

I have realized that each child wishes the director to give her individual attention, to make eye contact, to make him/her understand the importance of the role in the overall play! In such groups, there always are children who appear more able than others, who are more co-operative than others and children who seem more confident than others. I have observed that I achieve greater success in eliciting co-operation of young actors (no matter how shy or how unwilling or how under-confident they appear initially) when I push them to try; to stretch themselves rather than just let them be. Convincing and urging to try makes them feel oriented, feel important and feel needed. Of course there is a balance which one cannot topple. It is better to have scripts where each child could get equal or almost equal presence. Stage line up is important to ensure visibility. I think while dealing with young children, the director should not try to achieve

a Broadway blockbuster but instead try to bring out the best in each child. Audience understands. Such audiences chiefly consist of parents of each actor and derive higher pleasure in seeing their children look significant on stage rather than on overall play structure, story or such nuance.

Research shows that drama plays an important role in building the selfesteem of children. It improves their reading and comprehension skills. It has been studied that children who are active in drama outperform their peer on competitive tests. It has been used with success to reduce school absenteeism and is recommended as useful tool to reduce achievement gap among students. It is widely used in schools and even at work place to build involvement, team spirit, inculcate values of commitment, offer orientation to a single goal and so on. These carrots are for parents. For a child, a skit or a play is just an opportunity to get together, have snacks, drink juices, dance to music, don amazing costumes, feel good about getting photographed, feel happy about being heard or seen with rapt attention. And that’s how it is all fun, replete with promises of beautiful memories!

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