Telling Known Stories

I’ve always been skeptical when people have told me that they are telling known stories in their play. Whenever someone tells me something like that, I start wondering what the big deal about it is. About why anyone would want to watch a play that tells a story that they already know. A story where everyone expects the next move that the actors make, the next thing the actors say. I wonder what thrill the actors get when they know that they are contributing little to the audience in terms of story value.

But then, after watching a mindblowing rendition of the Ramayana by kids of Navkis Educational Centre (I was there at the invitation of a friend whose cousin studies in the school and played a major role in the production) last weekend, I must confess that I had been wrong. I must admit that there does exist tremendous value in telling known stories. In fact, from a pure artistic perspective, it is preferable to tell a known story.

There are two parts to every production – the story and the way the story is told. And unless the story is something absolutely mindblowing, or has enough twists and turns and thrills to keep the viewers always on the edge of their seats, it is the latter part that makes or breaks a production. Yeah, of course you need a reasonable plot, a good storyline, but if you look at all the great movies, books or stage production, the best part has been the way that the stories have been told.

So when you are telling a known story, it gives you more scope to experiment in terms of the way that the story is told. You get more freedom to do your own thing, knowing fully well that the viewers know what is happening. You can twist and turn the dialogues, or even dispense with them (as the Navkis kids did). You can leave things unsaid, knowing that the audience will fill in the gaps. In short, you can just freak out with the production, in a way you never can if the audience doesn’t know the story.

Of course it is a double edged sword. Because you are not adding any value in terms of the story itself, the way you present the story can make or break the production. So unless you are confident that you are telling the story in a unique way, you risk tomatoes.

Another thing I was thinking about during the performance on Saturday was about the commercial viability of productions such as this. It was a truly amazing performance by the kids, and for a school play you don’t need commercial success. The thrill of being involved (and each one of the 500+ students of the school was involved in the production) is enough incentive for the players to do a good job. The question is about scalability, replicability and commercialization. I don’t have any answers yet. If you can think of something, let me know.

4 thoughts on “Telling Known Stories”

  1. Agreer!

    A good story makes a good one time watch, while a well executed play / movie is what you’d like to see again. Same holds for books, esp fiction.

  2. I once saw the ramayana movie (I think) entirely played by kids. That was really cool. Regardless of the story, all the kids were dressed like adults and the acting was totally great.

  3. Be it a book, movie or a play, it is the form that matters more than the content. In a lot of cases, the form helps illuminate the content. Recently read this review of Prem Panicker’s rendering of Mahabharata through Bhima’s viewpoint. Though most readers will be familiar with the story, the choice of the narrative form (subjective prose) helps us get a different perspective on familiar characters and events.

  4. Applies to all aspects of life, even work. At least I hope that the efforts in executing differently makes people think I am doing something “different”!

    PS: You should so read Mahabharata: A child’s view by Samhita Arni.Am sure you will like it.

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