Try your hand at solving riddle stories from India at Kalaa Utsavam 2020

Kid-friendly attractions are few and far between during this pandemic but you can still do some fun activities with your children from the comfort and safety of your home. 

One such activity available till December 20 is Stories for Solving: Riddle Stories from India offered by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay as part of Kalaa Utsavam – Indian Festival of Arts. 

Stories for Solving comprises two videos narrated by Kamini Ramachandran with music by Raghavendran Rajasekaran and illustrations by Kumuda Krovvidi. Photo Courtesy: Zane Motalif for Moonshadow Stories
Stories for Solving comprises two videos narrated by Kamini Ramachandran with music by Raghavendran Rajasekaran and illustrations by Kumuda Krovvidi. Photo Courtesy: Zane Motalif for Moonshadow Stories

Master story-teller Kamini worked with riddle stories and set two videos to music to recreate this very traditional form of oral storytelling for today’s children. 

If you are good at figuring out clues and solving puzzles, put on your thinking cap and enjoy these classic folktales from India, which are riddles wrapped inside stories.

“As a child, my late grandfather would tell me riddle stories to make me think deeply about the story. I enjoyed the process of guessing and trying to solve problems”, she adds. 

Riddle stories encourage children to become active listeners who must engage with the storyteller beyond being a passive audience, says Kamini. 

Kamini is aware that children are on devices for long durations adding up to a lot screen time. “My storytelling stops and asks them questions, and I expect them to participate in the storytelling process by contemplating options. Despite using the digital medium to share my stories, I still wanted children to feel curious and to ponder over the hints provided”, she adds. 

Good old-fashioned riddle stories are still relevant in today’s digital age, says storyteller Kamini. Photo Courtesy: Zane Motalif Moonshadow Stories
Good old-fashioned riddle stories are still relevant in today’s digital age, says storyteller Kamini. Photo Courtesy: Zane Motalif  for Moonshadow Stories 

Takeaways from Stories for Solving

Stories for Solving is fundamentally an auditory experience for both parents and children with the main aim of getting them to pay attention to their listening skills.

All too often the digital sphere readily provides answers and solutions by revealing them to us quickly, yet, “Good old-fashioned riddle stories are still relevant in today’s digital age!”, says Kamini. 

“An aural story relies on the listener’s imagination (and deductive skills!) to slowly  unravel the tale (and riddles!). These two storytelling videos do not focus on a storyteller’s face and expression to convey the stories”, says Kamini. 

Collaborations: The Story and The Art 

The stories are Indian folktales and illustrator Kumuda’s visuals complement the tales. This is not the first time that Kumuda and Kamini are working together. 

“I have collaborated with Kumuda previously for ARTWALK Little India 2020 where she  facilitated a mandala drawing workshop related to my stories about Nakshatra: The Lunar  Mansions,” says Kamini

“I have wanted to collaborate with her in a more integrated process where her illustrations complement my storytelling. Kalaa Utsavam 2020 provided the ideal opportunity for this”, she adds. 

Kamini (left) with Kumuda (right) with the illustrations which were hand-painted on canvas and then filmed separately.
Kamini (left) with Kumuda (right) with the illustrations which were hand-painted on canvas and then filmed separately. Photo Courtesy: Kalaa Utsavam 

The duo spent time discussing the two folktales, key characters to highlight, the colour palette and how the overall feeling of the visual experience should translate to film. 

For this particular project, each chapter of the story had to be broken down into individual scenes that visually depicted what was happening in that part of the story, lending a comic book quality to the overall illustrations.  

Collaborations: The Story and The Music

Musician Raghavendran Rajasekaran, who has worked together with Kamini a few times, completes the trio. 

Musician Raghavendran Rajasekaran (left) has also worked together with Kamini (right) a few times. Photo Courtesy: Kalaa Utsavam
Musician Raghavendran Rajasekaran (left) has also worked together with Kamini (right) a few times. Photo Courtesy: Kalaa Utsavam

“We have an intuitive understanding of each other’s performative aspects. Both of us work unscripted and feed off each other’s performance energy”, says Kamini. 

Explaining the choice of the flute as an accompaniment instead of the usual percussion instrument the tabla, Kamini shares, “At the development stage different musical instruments and sounds were tried for this project”. 

It was the flute that resonated most with the trio. “And Raghavendran is known as an accomplished flautist. That’s why you hear the flute notes as the main musical instrument throughout both stories”, concludes Kamini.

The videos are highly aural with Kamini’s narrator’s voice and Raghavendran’s accompanying music. 

The flute by Raghavendra flutters and rushes and poses questions just like the riddles in the stories. Photo Courtesy: Zane Motalif for Moonshadow Stories
The flute by Raghavendra flutters and rushes and poses questions just like the riddles in the stories. Photo Courtesy: Zane Motalif for Moonshadow Stories

Storytelling goes Digital

Kalaa Utsavam went hybrid for the first time in 2020 with most programmes being digital and some events onsite. 

"One of the positive outcomes of this pandemic has been to push our artistic boundaries and to experiment with technology. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to still be able to perform as a storyteller in these uncertain times”, says Kamini.

Like many others storyteller Kamini too misses performing to a live audience. “ I miss the dynamic energy that happens on stage when I perform together with a musician and there are visual projections behind me”, she says. 

Videographer Amos Poh took the time to understand how the storyteller envisioned the videos and grasped the essence of the stories. Photo Courtesy: Kalaa Utsavam
Videographer Amos Poh took the time to understand how the storyteller envisioned the videos and grasped the essence of the stories. Photo Courtesy: Zane Motalif for Moonshadow Stories. 

“But artists are resilient and we are also creative in finding new ways to present our craft”, she adds. 

Videographer Amos Poh too took the time to envision the videos, says Kamini. “His patience and ability to grasp the essence of my stories really helped with the overall filming process”, she adds.

The Storyteller’s Riddle

What has hands but cannot clap? (Read to the end for the answer) 

“I love this riddle because it is so evocative of the current times we artists are experiencing.  Though our live audiences are not physically with us in performance spaces, they are still together with us on this digital journey”, says Kamini. 

She speaks for all artists performing online when she says, “We may not be able to hear them clap, but they are watching and listening to us, somewhere on the other side”.

(Answer: A Clock!) 

Author
Lakshmy Iyer
Lakshmy Iyer – Senior Correspondent, ASEAN & Entertainment

Lakshmy has been contributing regularly as a freelance writer since 2012. Her writing has been an amalgamation of the language, literature and rich cultural experiences of India as well as South East Asia. An Instructional Designer by profession she is passionate about lifelong learning. Art is her medium of reflection. She participates in art exhibitions thus contributing to the local art scene and using this platform, supports social causes in Singapore as well.

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