We’ve grown up listening to stories from yonder, about characters we’ve never really encountered in real life. Folktales with talking monkeys and fairy tales with flying carpets are buried deep in all our memories. But when was the last time you were moved by a story set in some faraway land? When was the last time you heard a folktale and related to its characters? Or maybe took away a message from it?
The latest production of Tahatto, a Bengaluru-based theatre group, Remember Remember, has taken the “Once upon a time, there lived…” narrative and tweaked it to suit modern times. A compilation of five very compelling stories, all set in modern times, Remember Remember is an energised retelling of magical folktales of yore – only here there’s no “once upon a time…”
Prashanth Nair, writer and director of the play, shares with TNM that the idea dawned on him while he was talking to his mother.
“Most of the stories I’ve heard are set in lands I don’t identify with. I began wondering why cities don’t hold enough interest for stories? What would constitute magic for someone who has lived his life in the city?” This lead him to pen five different stories all set in places we can relate to.
In a fictional near-future setting, an app allows humans to go back 10 seconds in time to undo a mistake they’ve done ('ZenTen'). Strung around a romantic relationship, the story has Black-Mirroresque tones to it.
“How perfect would that relationship be? Is there even a real memory then? Isn’t that prospect scary?” asks Prashanth.
Prashanth says that the stories have been written with a free hand.
“I did not stick to the prescribed scriptwriting format where everything is pre-decided, right from colours in some cases. The stories were written in prose format and there’s a lot of organic development and changes being made to it by the performers themselves. There’s no separate music team, the performers sing and play the instruments themselves. There’s a lot of freedom for the story to evolve dynamically, to take a new shape every time it is presented on a new stage to a new set of audience.”
In ‘Pied Piper Remembers’, the group artfully uses dragon masks, music and movements to take on the serious topic of racism and immigrant crisis. In ‘Everybody needs an Imaginary Friend’, they discussed mental illness with empathy, not as something that’s just medical. The ‘Woman who lost her Stories’ asks an important question – “without memories, are we just biology?”
Folktales are often stereotypical – there’s the wicked step-mother, a Prince Charming who’s the acknowledged hero and not to forget the evil witch. Remember Remember tries to break these formulaic roles.
“We didn’t want to give into clichés. Our focus was on real people, so that the story remains relatable. Folktales have always varied from person to person, altering over time with the person who tells it. If I’m an alpha male, I’d add more patriarchal tones to it. But in Remember Remember, we’ve kept our stories very real,” Prashanth says.
Given the current politically charged environment, where art is often being curbed and freedom of expression choked, how does it feel being a creator?
“This is something that’s constantly on my mind and, frankly, it scares me. When this is happening at home, when we take the opposing ends of the spectrum at the dinner table, how do you stay authentic to what you feel? I believe the only way to stay afloat is to keep doing what you’re doing,” says Prashanth.
Performed by eight actors, Kalyani Kumar, Nithya J Rao, Deepthi Bhaskar, Venkataraghavan Srinivasan, Badarivishal Kinhal, Piyush Agarwal, Jimmy Xavier and Prashanth Nair, Remember Remember will be presented in Chennai on March 25 at Museum Theatre, Egmore. Tickets are available on BookMyShow and whistlepodu.com.