Interview
 
Shaili Sathyu Interview
Gillo Theatre Repertory led by Shaili Sathyu is among the foremost theatre companies for children and youngsters in the country. One of its popular plays KYUN KYUN LADKI based on the story by Mahashweta Devi will close after six years this week with its last three shows on Friday, 2nd June at Prithvi theatre. We speak to Shaili Sathyu about the play and its unconventional young heroine, Moyna.


 By Deepa Punjani

Deepa Punjani (DP): It's going to be adieu to KYUN KYUN LADKI and to curious Moyna. How do you feel?

Shaili Sathyu (SS): We took the decision to bid adieu to Moyna in January this year. So I have had enough time to get comfortable with the decision. I feel happy that the play was able to reach so many people. Initially we planned only 5 shows and I was quite sure we would not be able to stage more shows. But it has been six years now and close to 40 shows. Creating the play was very enriching and I have good memories of those 4 months.

DP: What led you the story?

SS: The book was published by Tulika many years before we staged the play. I bought a copy for my library around 2005 and had read it to children in my workshops as well. I was charmed by its simplicity and directness in the portrayal of a curious child. I was intrigued by Moyna's questions and saw a similar curiosity in children around me. The book gave me an entry point into the world of questions and I was keen to explore what triggers these questions, especially in a child's mind.

DP: Why do you think it continues to be relevant?

SS: As the play portrays glimpses of parallel stories about children and focuses on particular instances highlighting their curiosity. It does not dwell on the narrative of each child's life. I think that makes it accessible even after so many years. I don't know about the relevance, but it has been easy for children to connect with the protagonists and the ensemble. The play reflects much of what is common in children's lives, even if they are from a context that is different from the play. Parent-child interactions, friends, daily life, pets, games, repeated questioning, navigating the world around, engaging with the unknown, and so on.


DP: Moyna presents a different world, one might say, a diametrically opposite world to urban-bred, privileged children. How do they react?

SS: At first they are confused. Then they connect with her because she is not the bechara village child they are exposed to by the general media and in their school books. I think they realise she is different yet similar. She has mood swings, talks a lot, argues, is carefree, playful and does what she wants. She is not begging for food or wearing dirty clothes or has snot running down her face. This may sound unusual but Mahashweta Devi's Moyna does break the mould of what one may think of a ''tribal child'' from India.

DP: What's the best response you have got for the play?

SS: There have been several responses that I cherish. One that stands out is of a little boy in Pune who after the play asked his mother whether she understood the performance or needed help with explanations. He was confident that he understood the play better than his mother! Many have said they like it when the ''Why-Why Girl'' becomes a teacher. But most of all I feel happy when children ask more questions that the play has triggered. Why was Moyna illiterate? Why does her family not have food? Why did she chase snakes? Why do we have to go to school? Why do people die?

DP: Your repertory company is keen on plays that sensitise children. Which are the top three stories that you wish to do in the near future?

SS: There are several stories that we are keen to stage. Next year we are producing a play based on 'King and Kiang', a story by Mariam Karim Ahlawat, and again published by Tulika. I would love to direct 'Captain Coconut' by Anushka Ravishankar because it is such a silly book and will make a great comedy. There are other stories that are starting points and I am looking at developing them into plays. There are stories about life and death, about grandparents and how children remember them, stories of India's partition from a child's point of view, etc.

*Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.






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