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Think twice, look again : Ranga Shankara & Schnawwl's THE BOY WITH A SUITCASE


- Prakash Belawadi.



You can tell from the lines on her face
You can see that she''s been there
Probably been moved on from every place
''Cos she didn''t fit in there...


- ''Another Day in Paradise'' (Phil Collins)

They are forced to move on because they are battered by war, rebellion, hate, deprivation or poverty. Home is hard to let go. But then, home is hard to find.

BOY WITH A SUITCASE, written by British playwright Mike Kenny and directed by Andrea Gronemeyer for a collaboration production by Ranga Shankara and Schnawwl Theatre, seeks to tell, delightfully and ever so lightly, that when you run from hell you don''t necessarily arrive in Paradise. What it manages to leave you with, though, is a memory of adventure, of warmth and compelling performances.

A 12-year-old boy named Naz (presumably Muslim) is put on a bus by poor and helpless parents distressed by an uprising; he has nothing for company but a suitcase and a head full of Sindbad stories. Until he meets a young girl named Krysia (presumably East European) who shares with him a journey of brutality and terror made of soldiers, labour contractors, cads and wolves, literally. Before they get to London, finally, they have been through desert and mountain, a garment sweat-shop and the sea, relieved by a stream of remembered stories. Naz gets to London, but as his sister''s cold welcome suggests, it is not exactly Paradise.

The production features Schnawwl actors Nikolai Jegorow, David Benito Garcia and Simone Oswald, and Bengaluru''s Pallavi Arun and Shrunga BV. They are supported by composer and drummer Coordt Linke (Germany) and our own Konarak Reddy with a guitar. Director Andrea Gronemeyer, who is also head of the department of drama at the National Institute of Theatre, Mannheim, Germany, is a key mover of the collaboration ''Do I Know You?'' that took root in 2006 when Schnawwl delighted audiences at Ranga Shankara with her production of ROBINSON & CRUSOE

In BOY WITH A SUITCASE, Andrea Gronemeyer does bring together the Indian and German cast and crew in a surprisingly easy blend, without borders, and through minimal, but ruthlessly efficient sets and props, with changes and moods eased by pleasing music and effects. She creates a ''road story'' of adventure, spirit and humour. The actors perform with litheness, timing and charm and even the disclaimer end cannot dull the high in the audience. We leap up from our seats as the company lines up for applause.

Yes, BOY WITH A SUITCASE makes a case for young Africans fleeing across the Mediterranean into Europe; for those who barely survive the Sahara and bandits and savages who would kill them for their vital body organs. It makes a case for the thousands who continue to use the Schengen policy of 'borderless' Europe to find jobs and a better life in Germany, France, UK, Italy or the Scandinavian countries. And it warns: It''s no Paradise out there: Young people with college degrees could end up washing dishes and cleaning toilets. Or worse.

The play is meant for children. But the question is, 'children, where?' It''s easy to see how it could find resonance in post-recession Europe, troubled with rising nationalism and xenophobia. Where Chancellor Angela Merkel says that Germany''s attempt to create a multicultural society has 'utterly failed,' for she believes immigrants need to try harder to belong - including learning German. Where UK Prime Minister David Cameron calls for called for a 'shared national identity' to replace 'the doctrine of state multiculturalism', which he believes has encouraged segregation that makes immigrants 'unable to speak English and unwilling to integrate' in some neighbourhoods.

About 40 per cent of the migrants in Germany, for instance, are from Turkey; some 30 per cent are from Eastern Europe. For the Turkish immigrants (over 3 million), apart from problems of integration in thriving Germany, it is also likely they will find it harder to get into schools, find jobs and get full wages. But ageing Germany needs the migrant labour force because about half of the Turkish population is between 14 and 29 years of age, but there are only 25 per cent of Germans in this age group). Children in Germany must reconcile to this fact and the multicultural future. BOY WITH A SUITCASE, delivered in an engaging form with a multi-lingual, bi-national cast, makes for very resonant theatre. In Germany.

What does this mean to children in Bengaluru or, for that matter, Mumbai? According to the provisional 2011 Census, Bengaluru''s population is now close to 10 million with the 'decadal growth of 46.68 per cent against the Karnataka average of 15.67 per cent.' What is means is that people are migrating massively to the city, as they do in Mumbai or any other big city, to escape from hunger and poverty in the villages and small towns. As millions of families abandon their traditional homes, they arrive in the cities with their children - who have no schools, food or sanitation and are sent to work.

India has the highest number of labourers in the world under 14 years of age. The facts are horrific. For instance, Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 350,000 bonded children are employed by the silk industry in India. Children as young as five years old are employed and work for up to 12 hours a day and six to seven days a week. One report says children are forced to dip their hands in scalding water to palpate the cocoons and are often paid less than Rs 10 per day.

In the week that BOY WITH A SUITCASE opened its run at Ranga Shankara, India observed World Anti Child Labour Day (June 12). At a commemorative function, the Karnataka Labour Minister said his department had 'freed' about a million children from bondage in 10 years. One NGO complained that a migrant child is 'sold' in the streets of Bengaluru for Rs 500. But elsewhere, the Kannada Development Authority (a government-appointed body to oversee the implementation of effective usage of Kannada in administration) was suggesting - like Merkel, Cameron and peers in anxiety-ridden Europe - that 'migrants' to Bengaluru take a Kannada test.

Still, BOY WITH A SUITCASE can be enjoyed without pain, without making the connection to the streets of Bengaluru or India, or the child workers in our homes, restaurants, shops, fields and factories. Not to say Gronemeyer is blind to it. She is just too far away. But the story and her staging of it, are sensitive and caring, even if one wishes she had punctuated the narration at times for meaning and emphasis. But, that''s a boring ask, I guess.

*Prakash Belawadi is a journalist and a theatre person from Bangalore. He has directed plays, documentaries and TV serials. His film, ''Stumble'' won a National Award in 2003. He has worked for leading English dalies like Indian Express, The Asian Age, and for the weekly magazine Sunday. He is recipient of the Pratibha Bhushan by the Karnataka Govt. He is co-founder of the Centre of Film and Drama, which is set to launch Suchitra School of Cinema and Dramatic Arts at the Suchitra Cinema and Cultural Academy campus in Bangalore.



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