The Indianisation of ‘The Snow Queen’
An auto-rickshaw-driving crow and a Bollywood dance-off. These are but two of the local attractions for audiences who catch Anupama Chadrasekhar’s British Council-presented UK adaptation of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s much-loved 1845 fairy tale The Snow Queen, which will be staged this week at the NCPA’s Experimental Theatre. The original, as you may know, follows the year-long journey of child-heroine Gerda who goes in search of her best friend Kaye, who has been kidnapped by the Snow Queen. In Chadrasekhar’s version, set in present-day India, Gerda becomes Gowri and Kaye becomes Kumar—and instead of travelling through seasons, as represented through the people she meets, “the spring witch, the summer princess and the autumn [child] bandit”, Gowri visits the backwaters of Kerala, the Bollywood of Mumbai, and the jungles of Chambal region, ending her epic jaunt not in the North Pole but in Kashmir.
“Since we don’t have [as many] seasons [in India as in Europe], I was inspired by the colours [of the country],” said Chandrasekhar. “I associated spring with green, and the first place I could think of that was that verdant [as the garden of the spring witch] was Kerala. [For] the summer princess, I thought ‘Where do you find royalty in this country?” Our contemporary equivalent of royalty, Chandrasekhar figured, are Hindi film superstars, and so “summer is [represented by] the gold, glitz and glamour of Bollywood”, while the rust of autumn is represented by “the grim countryside” of the Chambal region. “White”, which Chandrasekhar associated with winter “signified grief and sorrow”, and thus her snow queen is “a war widow who has [also] lost her only son”
“I couldn’t write a European play,” said Chadrasekhar. “The only place I’ve been to in Europe is London. [So] I started thinking of parallels with the original.” The idea of an Indian adaptation of The Snow Queen was first discussed by Chadrasekhar during a conversation she had about children’s literature with Carl Miller, one of the British playwrights who conducts workshops for the Writers’ Bloc festival organised by Mumbai-based theatre group Rage and London’s Royal Court Theatre. Chadrasekhar was one of the playwrights selected to participate in the inaugural edition of the festival, which is supported by the British Council.
Her adaptation of The Snow Queen was commissioned by the international organisation’s Connections Through Culture UK-India initiative and developed by popular London-based children’s theatre, the Unicorn. The show premiered to positive reviews at the Unicorn in December last year, and though the production we’ll see retains the same director, Rosamunde Hutt, it will be a touring version produced by the Trestle Theatre, a “a mask and physical theatre company” based in the English city of St. Albans. We’ll get less elaborate sets, but perhaps even more energy, said Chadrasekhar, who raised the ages of the child protagonists in the original story to fit the contemporary setting of her theatrical adaptation.
“Andersen has very cleverly not mentioned their ages; I assumed they are eight or nine years old,” Chadrasekhar said. “Given the kind of journey they undertake and the kind of emotions Gowri has to encounter, I thought it was appropriate to make her an adolescent who is both innocent and knows adult emotions”. Keeping in mind that The Snow Queen is in essence a fairy tale, she balanced the references to 21st-century life—iPhones and the like make an appearance—with elements from Indian mythological and folk tales, such as morphing trees, and a reference to the legend of Hindu goddess Kanyakumari’s aborted marriage to lord Shiva. The script touches upon such current concerns as war and the “growing sense of consumerism” in our country, but one crucial element has been left intact: the idea that “children with their innocence, idealism and ability to hope can set this world right”.
The British Council is giving three Mumbai Boss readers couple passes to watch The Snow Queen at the NCPA Experimental Theatre on Thursday, August 16, at 6.30pm. The first three people to write in to email@example.com, with “The Snow Queen” in the subject line, will win the passes. The winner will be notified directly via email. Contest only open to readers in Mumbai. Winners will have to travel to the venue at their own expense.
NCPA Experimental Theatre
LocationNational Centre for the Performing Arts
Phone022 6622 3737
Relevant DatesTuesday, August 14 to Thursday, August 16
HoursTuesday and Thursday, 6.30pm; Wednesday, 6pm
Ticketing & Price InfoRs300 and Rs350