Beastly Tales: Animal and Human Fables

Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah performing in Beastly Tales

Beastly Tales : Animal and Human Fables
A review by Manohar Khushalani

READINGS: Beastly Tales
Poems by Vikram Seth with Stories by James Thurber
Presented by Motley
Recitations by Naseeruddin Shah;
Ratna Pathak Shah; Heeba Shah; and Kenny Desai
Produced by Jairaj Patil
17 November 2022

Beastly Tales was billed as readings by the well-known performers, Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah, Heeba Shah and Kenny Desai. Produced by Jairaj Patil for Motley, the heavily attended event included poems by Vikram Seth, from his book ‘Beastly Tales with stories by James Thurber’, TS Eliot’s poems from ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ and Robert Browning’s Legendary poem ‘Pied Piper of Hamelin’. The starkly designed presentation had no bells and whistles. Led by Naseeruddin Shah, the four performers stood behind their individual lecterns and read out the poems with a flair and perfect diction. Each one read their own piece individually and sometimes, in perfect synchronisation, in a chorus.

Spiced with humour, the content of the performance was deftly curated to reflect idiosyncrasies of contemporary times with follies and foibles of its people juxtaposed against an animal world which reminds you eerily of ‘Fables of Aesop’ and ‘Panchatantra’. The animals were near human too, but unlike the complexities we fallible folks suffer from, the cat, the lion, the tiger, the elephant, the owl were more focussed with a single idiosyncrasy each. This curious fact, along with the pulsating rhythm of the poetry delivered with a punch and an aplomb by the actors brought out the message of each piece with precision.

Let’s pick a few stanzas from here and there and see for ourselves the merriness of the mirth involved.

The Tortoise, in Vikram Seth’s poem, initially maintained the original story with who won the race thus:

“And the cheering of the crowd
Died at last, the tortoise bowed,
And he thought: “That silly hare!
So much for her charm and flair.
Now she’ll learn that sure and slow
Is the only way to go –
That you can’t rise to the top
With a skip, a jump, a hop”

But here comes the twist in Seth’s version, it is in fact the hare, who became the hero of the hour:

But it was in fact the hare,
With a calm insouciant air
Like an unrepentant bounder,
Who allured the pressmen round her.
“And Will Wolf, the great press lord
Filled a Gold cup — on a whim –
And with an inviting grin
Murmured: “In my eyes you win.”

Each of the selections had interesting, and sometimes mind blowing twists and turns, that be made you realise that, as in real life, in these fairy tales too you cannot take a happy ending for grantedFirst Published in IIC Diary Nov-Dec 2022

First Published in IIC Diary Nov-Dec 2022

Manohar Khushalani

Manohar Khushalani

Prof. Manohar Khushalani is a former Visiting Faculty at Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi. The courses he taught were: Animation & Graphics, Non-Linear Editing for Film and Radio and Theatre Appreciation.  He has won a total of nine Excellence in Teaching awards for all the courses he has taught at IIITD Earlier he retired from Government of India as Director Environment Management, Central Water Commission and held many senior positions in the Government Based on a Belief that Culture and Environment are the two keys to global sustainability , Manohar Khushalani has launched two portals: A Portal on Environment and Water called One Vorld at url: and two Ezines on Culture called Stage Buzz at url: He has taught extensively in varied subjects such as Dam Safety, Instrumentation, CAD, IT, Animation, Theatre, Newspaper Editing. He has conducted Courses on Environment Management, Water Shed Development, Team Building and Personality Development. He was an Expert Member of Prasar Bharti’s Committee for Grading & Short listing Films for Telecast on all channels of Doordarshan.  He is a Radio Anchor for All India Radio and has moderated several programs for the Rajdhani Channel He is a well-known Theatre Actor/Director and Critic, has been involved in theatre since 1977. He has worked as an actor in over 50 plays with almost every leading director/Actor in the Country including Badal Sircar, Feisal Alkazi, Amal Allana, M.K. Raina, Anuradha Kapoor, Maya Rao, Manohar Singh, Prasanna, Rati Bartholomew and Sushmita Mukherji. He has been active in the social sector as a street theatre activist. As a member of Workshop Theatre, Theatre Union and Prayog, Khushalani has participated in street plays taking up major social issues such as dowry, bride burning, Sati, banned medicinal drugs and communalism. Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Can’t Pay Won’t Pay, both directed by him, received rave notices from critics and audiences alike. Other plays directed by him include Badal Sircar’s, Sagina Mahato and Boris Vian’s Empire Builders for Ruchika Theatre Group. Khushalani has also acted in a few films such as Sudhir Mishra's Hazaron Khwaishen Aisi , Shoojit Sircar’s Madras Café and Pradeep Krishan's Annie Gives Those Ones. He is an Animator & Graphics Designer and has directed a number of documentaries. He also held a number of Honorary positions and was President of North India Films Association, He was the Chairman of  Jury for UGC CEC Educational Films Competition and has been on their Preview Committee since last many years. He was on the preview committee of Door Darshan Channel 3, was a visiting Professor at National School of Drama, New Delhi, and Film & Television Institute of India, Pune, AJKMCRR, Jamia Milia Islamia and Professor in Media at FICT, Delhi  He has judged a large number of Drama Competitions and conducted a number of Theatre / Management Games Workshops with Institutions such as AIIMS, NTPC, CWPRS, NWA, Karve Nari Prakshishan Sansthan, FICT, IIT, MAMC, Gargi College, KNC, Tagore International School and Vivekananda School. He is a Theatre Critic for IIC Diary, has also been a Columnist with Midday and Pioneer Daily and wrote Column's Called Culture Cocktail and Footlights Respectively. He was also the Guest Editor for an issue on Folk Theatre of ICCR Journal Horizons. He has written for Times of Indian, Hindustan Times, Blitz, Hard News, Hindu Business Line, Theatre India & Art Times. He has designed dams and hydraulic structures for the Government. He is a programmer and has developed Engineering design software in Fortran. He is a co-author of Irrigation Practice & Design (Vol 1 to5 - 1500 pages) published by Oxford & IBH and sponsored by National Book Trust. He has been a Director, Environment and Sociology, at the National Water Academy, Khadakwasla and Director, Environment Management Directorate, Central Water Commission and Member Secretary, National Environmental Monitoring Committee for River Valley Projects. He was also Director of Instrumentation Directorate in the Dam Safety Organisation. He was Chief General Manager and Head of Water Resources at Scott Wilson and is an accredited consultant with numerous other organizations He is a Delhi Public School, BITS Pilani, IIT Delhi and FTI Pune Alumini. He was also the President of BITS Pilani Alumni Association, Pune.

You may also like...

4 Responses

  1. Archana Hebbar Colquhoun Archana Hebbar Colquhoun says:

    Most interesting. A new take on animal fables. A critical review that whets your appetite and makes you want to reach out for more.

  2. Archana Hebbar Colquhoun Archana Hebbar Colquhoun says:

    Most interesting. A new take on animal fables. A critical review that whets your appetite and makes you want to reach out for more.

  3. Avatar Neeta says:

    Couldnt stop myself to applaud the beautiful work.In future i would love to work with you Prof

  4. Avatar Neeta says:

    Couldnt stop myself to applaud the beautiful work.In future i would love to work with you Prof

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *