Raastey as much about the present as the past

Raastey as much about  the present as the past

Asmita Theatre is known for its hard-hitting political dramas, but Raastey – the intense ideological play by Govind Purushottam Deshpande it staged recently – truly symbolises what Asmita stands for. Raastey – as the name indicates – deals with the different ideological paths we choose for ourselves. Selfless socialism, violent naxalism, religious nationalism and even indifferent liberalism are all relevant political stands we take in our lifetimes. And when they come into conflict, often, loyalty has to be proved at the cost of sweat, blood and even personal relations.

Raastey was originally written in Marathi in 1989. It was a time of great socio-political upheaval with USSR on the brink of disintegration and US emerging as the sole super power. Communism had been vanquished and capitalism was preparing to take over the reins of the world. Religious fundamentalism was also rearing its head in different countries, including India, at the same time. The youth was still trying to understand the fast evolving world order and the ideological path to follow. Playwright GP Deshpande recorded this ‘inner conflict’ in Raastey.

The play revolves around three friends who graduate from Baroda University – Gangadhar (played by Gaurav Mishra), Damodar Gokhale (Suraj Singh) and Kachubhai Shah (Rahul Khanna). Gangadhar is a diehard communist invoking Lenin and Marx at the drop of a hat, Damodar a ‘worshipper’ of RSS ideologue VD Savarkar and Kachubhai a liberal who balances the arguments of his two friends with his own contestations. What is common between the three is that they are all very intelligent, articulate and well-informed.

Sample this. Gangadhar says, “Aaj USSR, East Europe, Vietnam, Korea - aadhi duniya pe hamara raaj hai. Kal poora sansar hamara hoga. (Communism is already ruling half the world. Very soon, all will be ours). To this Damodar retorts: “Tum us vyavyastha ki prashansa kar rahe ho jo apne hi lekhkon ko maarti hai? (You are praising a system which kills its own writers and intellectuals?) Why don’t you go settle in the USSR? To this Gangdhar shoots, “Why don’t you move to the US?” Asmita is at its fiery best with powerful dialogues – something it specialises in – and the actors deliver them as convincingly.

A generation passes and Gangadhar’s children - Durga (the brilliant Shilpi Marwah) and Madhav (Ishwak Singh), both brought up in their father’s ideals of communism -- are now seeking their own paths. Durga ends up joining an underground armed group while Madhav is painfully vacillating between his father’s ideological inclination and his own Middle-class aspirations. The play ends with a letter from Durga saying she’s being chased by police of several states but will not give up on her path of fighting for justice for the poor and downtrodden.

Director Arvind Gaur says, “The play holds as much relevance today as it did in the 1990s. At that time, it was a war between communism and capitalism, while today religious fundamentalism and terrorism are at the political centrestage. For me, the challenge was to contemporarise the dialogues slightly with reference to recent events and also explain all the ‘isms’ to my team. Only
when you understand these concepts can you argue on them persuasively.”

On this, though, we give full marks to Arvind and all the actors for not just living up to the recently deceased GP Deshpande’s imagination but also taking it to a new
level completely.

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