A telling tale on present times

A telling tale on present times

The play, Moteram ka Satyagraha, based on Munshi Prem Chand’s story of the same name, was recently staged at India Habitat Centre, by the Asmita Theatre Group.

Based around the time of British Raj, the magistrate, Sir William Parkinson (aka
Bajrang Bali Singh) commands his subordinates, the fellow officers of unemployment, entertainment, political affairs and police etc. to give ideas on how to ‘impress’ the Viceroy. The city of Banaras and, especially the magistrate’s office, go into an overdrive when they receive the news that the Viceroy from Delhi will be visiting the city.

The officers and the magistrate decide to change the ‘face of Banaras’ to a completely new one. They devise a plan to throw out the beggars and homeless to the bordering city (cleanliness drive), involve the shopkeepers in a pre-planned festival which they will celebrate as Apna Utsav and after all the undesirable population and anything else that threatens to ruin the ‘reputation’ of Banaras is removed, the population will be replaced with all the prisoners and convicts in the police station!

The play is a satire and according to the director, Arvind Gaur, “It has all the elements which reflect the present political climate in the country. These kinds of stories are never redundant,” he tells Metrolife.

On the surface, the play appears to be a simple story of a Brahmin from Banaras. How the Brahmin comes into the picture, is what the play is all about. Satyagraha versus Dharmagraha is the underlying concept of the play. It shows that religion and politics are played on uneducated and poor people’s mind to generate money and reputation for authoritarians.

 Parkinson learns that the city people are planning to go on strike on the day of the Viceroy’s visit, as they are disturbed with their poverty. He plans to involve Pandit Moteram Shastri to declare hunger strike before the people declare hartal. In this way he presumes that the ‘pious’ people will be manipulated into believing that, if a Brahmin goes hungry, a horrible curse would fall on all of them.

The very important role of Moteram is played by Gaurav Mishra, who enthralled the audience with his dialogues and presence on stage. Unbeatable were the moments when he, a glutton and an obese man, is controlling his hunger just for a little more cash. Whether or not Moteram succeeds in controlling his hunger, is what brings the play to it’s comical climax.

Timely musical acts by the Asmita Group actors and singers, with the music composed by Sangeeta Gaur, kept the performance lively and entertaining. As Moteram breaks his fast, the song that follows is rendered by the people, in which all the actors join in saying, “A Brahmin cannot go hungry like a regular man after living life of kings.”

The play has been staged before, with different actors every time and this time Mishra was applauded enthusiastically by the audience. The other actors and every character on stage looked like they were playing centre stage and it was hard to figure out who was not in the lead role! The play went as slickly as a movie on the big screen.
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