An irritable cow, a bunch of harangued farm animals and a farmer who is at his wit’s end. So far it sounds like the perfect mix for a children’s play. But that’s where I discover the cookie-cutter format ends, because Vinod Ravindran, the director of How Cow Now Cow, doesn’t believe in dumbing things down for the little ones. “Kids are really smart and they understand much more than adults give them credit for,” says the Bengaluru-based actor-director, explaining how the 50-minute performance—by Sachin Gurjale, Rency Philip and Anirudh Mahesh—is a layered one. The actors don the roles of the animals and of storytellers, and move in and out of multiple characters.
“I had read Rosemarie the Cow, a German play by Andri Beyeler, years ago at a workshop. And it had stayed with me because of the simplicity of the story. Then, last year, when we were talking about doing a play that could be easily taken to schools and little spaces where you can’t usually perform, I proposed we work on this,” says Ravindran.
Flights of fancy
Since the actors don’t believe in following a script, they worked on it for five weeks—improvising, figuring out who is telling the story and how to tell it. They also decided to use overhead projection (“it’s more rudimentary, you can see an animal is moving because a hand is moving it; to me that is much more fun”) and add elements of object theatre and shadow puppetry to give the narration more variety. “We also had to adapt it a little, so it made sense to our audience,” he says. Don’t expect traditional costumes here (like a cow costume); the actors keep it real and rely on children’s willingness to imagine. There are no traditional sets, either. “Sets are boring, they are just there all the time,” chuckles the 40-year-old, who premiered his first children’s play, Raja Tantra Choo Mantra, a few years ago at Ranga Shankara’s International Theatre Festival. “But I do use other things. Like my projection screen—we hide behind it, it becomes our house, our window, whatever we need,” he adds.
Three is company
The play is open to interpretation and Ravindran shares children have come to him with many. “The best was a little six-year-old girl’s. She wanted to know how it was possible for three people and a director to work together and create one thing, because she and her classmates can never agree on anything,” he laughs, adding that what’s interesting is that “the idea of people working together is in the play, but as a very subtle idea”. Ravindran, who is heading to Mumbai, to assist director Atul Kumar in his new play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is planning a couple of new plays, but this time his audience will be adults.
Tomorrow and Sunday, at the Goethe-Institut, at 6.30 pm. Rs 200. Details: 28331314
—Surya Praphulla Kumar