The “Sim Sim Hamara” set is as enchanting as one’s childhood. Shiny and bright, clean and alluring, it’s a happy world of laughter where creativity and intellectual curiosity thrive along with furry friends and adult role models.
While most of us have reduced the programme — the first episode of which will be airing on Pakistan Television (PTV) channel today at 5:30 pm — to a local version of “Sesame Street”, the Head of Party at Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, Faizan Peerzada clearly spells out, “This is not a franchise of the ‘Sesame Street’. It’s not McDonalds, where you will get the same fries as you would the world over. This is an original project with its own unique characters and plot lines.”
Indeed with the exception of the lovable red monster Elmo, “Sim Sim Hamara” seems to have no resonance with “Sesame Street” except for its focus on child education through song, dance and dialogue.
Back to younger days
It’s the first time on set for a television programme for child actors Saleha Arif, who plays the role of Kiran, and Syed Mannan Hassan, who plays Billo. “There are so many lessons that we learnt as kids but have forgotten now. So, for me, it’s a time to learn all over again,” says 19-year-old Hassan. The time waits in between scene changes might get irksome for some but Arif, who has taken three months off from school, uses the time lags to draw, make cards for crew members and bond with more experienced stars.
Meanwhile, for seasoned actor Mishi Khan, “Sim Sim Hamara” has given her the golden opportunity to go back to her childhood. “I’m very lucky to have been taken on board for this project,” she says. “I was never a very serious person so this is a real treat for me.” Khan plays Ms Anokhi, a school teacher, and is the only female adult actor in the programme. The other two human actors are Immu Jee and Master Khatput played by Imran Peerzada and veteran Salman Shahid respectively. Imran embodies the good, hip and contemporary ‘budhaa’ as he likes to call it. “We wanted to bridge the gap between the generations with this character to show that a grandparent doesn’t always have to be didactic and preachy and can be fun as well.”
When the motley crew of the kids, puppets and adult actors get together on set, it’s nothing short of a grand party combining laughter and love with discipline and work.
This is not to say the project hasn’t come with its own set of challenges. For director Usman Peerzada, the biggest test has been to work with puppets and humans together in one shot. “It’s very technical and tough but lots of fun.” One can imagine how difficult it must be to work with inanimate creatures, but Usman is quick to point out that, “The puppets aren’t inanimate. They are given life through body language and expressions.”
But if one assumes that only same gender characters are played by the same gender puppeteers — think again. Interestingly a female puppeteer, Karen Frank, plays the character of Munna. “It’s not difficult to play a boy since a kid doesn’t have a manly intonation.
Meanwhile, Frank’s colleague Irfan Zahid defines his role as ‘miscellaneous’ since he plays all the other creatures that dot the programme — the parrot, sheep and butterfly. “Playing so many different characters is amazing as I get to expand my portfolio of work,” says Zahid, who has a five-year experience in puppetry. “We get to be the cultural and local architects for our children and that is superb.”
For Yamina Peerzada, who plays Rani, the biggest challenge is lip-synching. “Television is so intimate that every word that you speak has to be precise unlike a theatre production where actions take over the nitty gritties that the camera can catch.” Having ‘lived and breathed’ puppets for over a decade, Yamina gains an exceptional high from the fact that, “a whole new generation of children will be educated through our own characters! Our next generation will suddenly have a repository of 70 songs that they can sing, hum and dance to.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 10th, 2011.