As a child in mid-seventies, I was asked to write a good article for my school magazine. Instead of copying and faking it like many other students of my age, I decided to be original, much to my dismay, it didn’t find a place in the magazine, while other copy cats did. We didn’t have Google search or Alt news to catch fake copies those days.
The incident revisited me when I saw Laal Pencil, a short play penned by Manav Kaul and directed by Varun Sharma staged at Alliance Francaise early this week.
It is said that if a child is to be taught a good value, stories and visuals work better than words. The play befits the saying. It toys with children’s psychology by weaving a simple tale in a symbolic way. A child is asked to write a poem by his teacher for a poetry competition. The teacher’s aspirations to become a poet, and his father’s ambition to see him grow as per his vision, thus could find wings in shaping up his goal, unmindful of what the child wants.
Forced to pen a happy poem, the child starts living his dream to become a good poet, He starts living his own aspirations through that; he will be important among classmates, he will find more friends to boast of and play with. Though unwillingly, he starts writing when a red pencil throws itself at his service and helps him pen a poem, which wins him a selection to another competition.
A repeat of same event finds him friends but they can make out. They goad him to tell the truth about who wrote the winning poem. His inner conscience, metaphorically appearing as Mahatma Gandhi compelling him to be truthful, bothers him. Tortured and exasperated, he throws the pencil, writes truth and fails the competition. He gets rid of that greed of winning fake rewards and company. The pencil catches hold of another vulnerable child and feeds on him.
The play is a great holiday breather for children and parents for its treatment of comedy. A fun-filled drama, it gives a peep into students’ lives into the class and outside, funny, mischievous, adventurous and innocent moments with the teachers, peons and others. Quick, sharp, crisp and hilarious exchange of dialogues had the audiences especially children into splits, and reminded elderly of school days.
Presented by Theatreleela Acting Studio and Harfkaar Foundation, Laal Pencil is praiseworthy for the reason that not many children’s play find a place in auditoriums outside schools. Interestingly, most teenage actors and the teacher in the play enacted so convincingly that for many moments it actually felt like being in a real classroom of naughty students teasing the teacher.
Not meant for a serious audience that swears by plays like Hayvadan and Tughlaq, Laal Pencil, however, is worth a watch for mischief, fun and a message. Says Sharma, a teacher who writes and directs for Delhi University Theatre Circuit, “My Laal Pencil is for a four-year old to 60-year-old. It requests age old, tried and tested idea, “Don’t push yourself or your children/family members for an unrealistic or unwanted goals. Let’s be free of greed and guilt of chasing a wrong dream or path.”
Sounds idealistic but doable!