What’s in a dream, you ask? A lot, thinks Saurabh Nayyar, the boy from Jabalpur who always dreamt of being an actor but ventured into engineering. Here’s the inspiring story of a man whose musical for children Sur VS Asur is not just super entertaining but also creates awareness about classical music from around the world. And the most intriguing part? It happens in a dream! Saurabh has become one of the sought-after names in not just theatre but also television thanks to the one dream he didn’t let go of.

We watched Sur V/S Asur and it’s hilarious yet compels us to think about the music around us? How did you think of such a concept and wasn’t it difficult to manage the funnies with a topic as complex as classical music?

When I was growing up, I used to love watching animation and the books I liked were also comics – Chacha Choudhary, Sabu, Billoo, Pinki, the works! I know that the best way to get home a point with kids is to make it fun. We had first staged this play in 2013 with kids from a special school and that was quite a challenge. Not because the kids were difficult to handle, in fact they would even improvise the lines and prompt their mates if anyone of them forgot their lines, but because it was the first time we were dealing with special children and we needed a different mindset. When we managed to pull that off and got a great response from the audience, I decided that we should stage it as a regular children’s play. We had to add a lot more to the play while keeping the essence same. I changed the lingo of many characters to make it contemporary street talk. I keep changing the lines to infuse local elements whenever we tour.

So what is the basic idea of Sur VS Asur? Are you saying that people like Yo Yo Honey Singh and Himesh Reshammiya are the asurs while folk music and classical music are the surs?

Haha! Would you believe that as a kid I used to love listening to Baba Sehgal! But it’s not me against them or anything like that. It’s a perspective. We have such rich music around the world. Then we have some contemporary singers and composers with great popular appeal but that isn’t necessarily music to my ears. Take the antagonist in my play – Velcrow. He and his band of followers sound terribly annoying and want to convert the voices of melodious children into screeching music. But Adarsh and Nidhi, the siblings, who are of an impressionable age and are studying Hindustani music, find a way to fight them. All this happens in a dream that they can’t come out of. Thanks to this make-believe world we could include a variety of music from different regions. There’s Baul exponent Lalon Fakir; South African activist-singer Miriam Makeba; the American soprano, Rosa Ponselle; and the Cuban diva, Celia Cruz. Our idea was to ensure that children today understand the roots of music and not to put down any form.

Must say you play Velcrow very well! We loved your antagonist.

Thank you. I wasn’t supposed to play Velcrow. I wanted someone else to do that part. But Avaneesh thought I would do it best. I wonder why he thought so. Performing doesn’t really come naturally to me. Or so I thought. I remember once in college I had to speak on a certain subject. I sat up all night and rehearsed my speech. But as soon as I was standing up there, I froze. I couldn’t say a thing. My professor told me to take a while and return but I just apologised and left. It was embarrassing but it taught me a valuable lesson. Next time, I participated in that competition again. What I wrote was great and I knew it but this time I wanted to speak it out too. Tru to my nature, I froze once more but this time I stood my ground. I waited for 10 seconds for that panic to disappear and then started speaking. I won the third prize for it! This time I went sulking because I didn’t win the first! (Laughs)

The language you have incorporated in the play was a ‘talking’ point.

Thank you. I love experimenting with language. I think we can do a lot with it. For Atul Kumar’s play Khwaab Sa based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I wrote entire parts in gibberish. It sounds like some form of Bhojpuri but it isn’t. It’s fun and people love that element. For Sur VS Asur, I did that with Bambaiya bhasha. Velcrow’s entire team speaks in this tapori lingo which is really harsh on the ears but also very funny. It gave me a chance to incorporate a lot of jokes, style and songs.

You’re now a mentor on television on a kids’ reality show. How is that experience?

It’s fun to be a mentor on Sabe Bada Kalaakar and also a big responsibility. It gives you much better exposure and, though I have written scripts for television earlier, this one is certainly more exciting because I write, I train and I act.

What’s your advice to young children who would want to get into writing or acting on stage?

I’d like to share something about my childhood. When I was growing up I was a very pampered child because I was the youngest in my house and no one would give me any work to do. This slowly changed to a feeling that nobody thought I could do any work! I used to crave to do work to the extent that I would go to my neighbours and offer to pay their electricity bills and do other sundry work for them! I went into engineering and got a steady job but I knew that I was actually a writer by heart. So I decided one day to come to Mumbai and check into the theatre scene here. When I disclosed this to my father, he must’ve thought I was crazy to leave a cushy job but, well, they sent me off.

When I came here I used my computer skills and my writing skills to get into Prithvi and did all sorts of work there. Since it was all related to theatre, I learnt a lot. Sameera Iyengar and Sanjana Kapoor would always encourage youngsters. I didn’t shy away from hard work. You never know what will come handy in the future. I gave Hindi tuitions to a child close to Prithvi and as a gesture of appreciation I gifted him a handwritten book of short stories that I had created to help him learn the subject better – Choti si thaili, choti si kahaniyaan (A small bag of small stories) I am looking forward to publish that now.

So, to every child out there, I would say just keep reading and just keep writing. You need one to feed on the other so what comes out of it is a beautiful canvas. Watching plays is very important too because it gives you fresh ideas. Gradually you will know what you want to write. And importantly, never kill your imagination!

(Book your tickets for Sur VS Asur playing on May 18 and 19 at Prithvi here!)

Copyright: Book Trotters Club

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