What a Cow!
Four years and 115 shows: In libraries, bookshops, theatre fesivals, auditoria, schools, and even in a space that couldn't pass off as a shed - this is the amazing journey of a feisty cow and her team of humans.
Rosamma, our heroine, arrived on the scene at an opportune moment. Yes, she was a cow, but that didn’t stop her from becoming the most important character in our play. During the premiere shows of the play that came to be christened “How Cow Now Cow” and our first interaction with the press, we were asked if this was a play about the beef ban and the ensuing violence in certain parts of the country. The timing was certainly spot on, even though our play was meant for children aged four and above.
the perfect time to be a cow
That was the year 2015, the year Indian cows made it to the front pages of national (and even international) newspapers. It seemed like the perfect time to be a cow. And Rosamma rose to the occasion like the star that she was.
Cut to 2019. Four years and 115 shows later, cows continue to be relevant, the latest being the introduction of an emergency ambulance service for injured cows in some parts of country. And there is talk of a special scheme to allot Aadhar numbers to cows. So technically, it’s still a very good time to be a cow. Statutory disclaimer #notallcows.
Rosamma, our heroine cow, retires
Despite all the conditions being ‘right’ and favourable for cows, Rosamma, our heroine has decided to retire, to hang up her boots, if you will.
Rosamma and her motley crew of farm animals have come a long way. A long way is technically four years but if we stop being technical it’s probably more like twelve years. It’s important for us to go all the way back if the effort is to chronicle this great epic (believe us, it has truly been epic!). The story started in 2006 or 2007 when Vinod Ravindran (who went on to direct the play) participated in a workshop on creating theatre for children, put together by the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Bangalore and facilitated by Andrea Gronemeyer from Germany (she went on to direct “Boy with a Suitcase” for Schnnawl/Ranga Shankara). One of the people responsible for making the workshop happen was German dramaturge and director Sophia Stepf (who went on to become a very dear friend and collaborator).
From a workshop to a cantankerous cow
At this workshop, Vinod heard the story of a cantankerous cow and it stayed with him. Later, he remembered neither the name of the writer nor other important things, all he remembered was that it was a German story about a cow and that he had heard it at this workshop.
The second part of this story took place in 2015 when a bunch of theatre practitioners got together at actor Rency Philip’s house to ‘try out stuff’ with the aim of exploring the idea of creating a play for children. Sandbox Collective was just a year old and wanted to produce a theatre piece for young children and since the team comprised of old friends and colleagues, we got on board with this one and thus began our longest collaboration.
The rights of the cow
By this time, it had become imperative for us to find the copyright owners of the story and acquire the rights to perform the play in India. And this is where reliable friends from the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan stepped in and helped us acquire rights for performances for a whole year. And that is how “Rosemarie the Cow” written by Andri Beyeler became “How Cow Now Cow” with Rosamma leading from the front.
The less said about the first few showings the better, as cast member Rency Philip eloquently puts it, “Our first show flopped severely in front of a few enthusiastic and energetic children who didn’t give a damn. Our first show at a festival flopped so severely that the audience who were mostly old Malayalee men (in Kerala) didn’t realise the play ended because they had all dozed off.”
The first steps of the cow: flopped
To say the play underwent a transformation would be an understatement. We were soon ready for our first real premiere at Jagriti Theatre’s Kid’s Carnival at Summertime. The show was a riot at Jagriti and Rosamma and her group of farm animals captured the attention and imagination of little children who couldn’t get enough of the cranky cow and her idiosyncrasies. Seriously, we were on a roll with this one.
Susu tracks and other mishaps during the cow show
Without getting into the details of the next 100 shows, let’s just say that it has been an incredible ride, made all more precious thanks to the children who watched the shows. There have been small children who didn’t want to miss what was happening on stage and so peed (urinated) in their seats. One child who ate a little too much before the show threw up in the middle of the show, but couldn’t be convinced to leave the show to go wash up, and there have been others who have trickled susu (urine) all the way from the toilet to their seats as they rushed back without finishing what they’d started, worried that they would miss too much of the show.
Needless to say, this was a first for us. Shiva Pathak (Producer from Sandbox Collective) soon worked a few announcements into her routine that included announcing the location of the restrooms and insisting that children use them before the third bell. That went a long way in fine-tuning our role of dealing with bodily functions of young audiences.
The cow on tour through India
We performed in libraries, bookshops, auditoria and even in a space that couldn’t pass off as a shed. We performed at some of the best theatre festivals in the country and in venues ranging from The India Habitat Center in Delhi to Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai and Ranga Shankara in Bangalore. We also performed in Kerala, Pondicherry, Chennai and in Hyderabad. And in Guwahati where the wall of our guesthouse collapsed thanks to an earthquake at night. Some of the actors were a bit shaken, while the rest slept through it.
We performed numerous shows at a variety of schools. The picture perfect private schools, the middle class standard schools and schools run by NGOs and the government. We performed in schools where students had never seen a play in their lives. They watched starry-eyed as the projector threw up beautiful images and a household mop magically transformed into a shaggy dog. At this point we also realised that English was the language of privilege and if we wanted to engage with children outside the private school set-up we had to create an alternative version in Kannada.
The translated cow
As always we turned to our good friends at our the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan who helped (again)with a translation grant to help us create a Kannada version of the play.
The journey, for us, along with the animals on the farm, has been both joyous and wonderful. But this journey - like all good ones - must come to an end. As we got ready to perform the two very last shows of “How Cow Now Cow” at Shoonya, we realised that most things end exactly how and where they began. In our case, at Shoonya, where we performed our first few shows.
Thank you cow!
And as always, we maintain that all animals are equal. But on this farm, like in some parts of our country, the cow is always more equal.
From all of us at Sandbox Collective and the cast and crew of “How Cow Now Cow”, a big round of gratitude and thanks from the bottom of our hearts for this joy-filled roller coaster ride. This could never have happened without your love and support.
How Cow Now Cow
Adapted from Rosemarie the Cow by Andri Beyeler
Supported by the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan
Produced by Sandbox Collective
Directed by Vinod Ravindran
Performed by: Abubakar Siddiq/ Anirudh Mahesh, Rency Philip / Shweta Desai
Sachin Gurjale / Vinod Ravindran
Lights: Lakshmi Menon / Parthasarathy
Artwork: Aruna Manjunath
Kannada Translation: K G Rajalakshmi
Supported by: Nrityagram and The Jamun.
Video: Virginia Rodrigues
Photographs: Richa Bhavanam / Jazeela Basheer
Poster: Studio Smu