Writer :  Ramu Ramnathan
Director :  Sunil Shanbag
Cast :  Nagesh Bhonsle, Charusheela Vachhani, Kumud Mishra, Pramod Pathak, Nimesh Mehta, Hridaynath Jadhav, Aanchal Nandrajog


By MTG editorial

COTTON 56, POLYESTER 84 begins with Bhau Saheb and Kaka, two former mill workers, who while away their old age at the newspaper stall near their housing chawl. In their banter, they re-live their past, swapping stories, re-interpreting events, trying to make sense of their lives. Bhau Saheb is a cynical idealist. He wants to dream the impossible dream, reach the unreachable star, and right the un-rightable wrong. It is a constant tussle between a real world, the world of fantasy. Kaka, his old friend, colleague, and confidant, indulges him, but not without offering his version of events as well. The play is strung along their conversation and banter ... characters enter and exit on cue, time is collapsed, moved back and forth through, and a web of stories and narratives is woven. Some of the characters who inhabit Bhau's and Kaka's world are:

Aai, i.e. Bhau Saheb's wife, takes care of material body needs, such as, food, rents, etc. She is a devout atheist.

Chottu, their son has thrown up his lowly paid job at the textile mill. He represents the now and here! Like the ad line for a bank, he never sleeps. He is on the move, on the go. He is recruited by Bhai, a local mafia chieftan who is scheming to control the Empire of Mumbai.

Meghana, Chottu's fiance, is a picture of discontentment and disenchantment. She hopes to retrieve Chottu from the clutches of Mephisto, and save his soul.

Gopal Seth, a former textile mill worker. These days, he produces variety entertainment programs, and does sold-out shows during Ganeshotsav and Navratri. He owns a cavalcade of luxury cars, which he rents out, and runs a cable TV business.

Bhai, mafia chief, oversees the garbage industry in Mumbai which is one of the biggest. His men pick up an indentured labourer, or a low-caste bonded labourer, from Bihar or UP and offer that person ... freedom. Escape routes are provided to Mumbai. The man is given some money and he reaches Mumbai. The man lets himself be sold. He is indebted to Bhai for saving him from misery. In the hands of such loyal people, Bhai's core business has flourished, silently.

The play is a gritty, true-to-life saga centred around Girangaon, Mumbai's historical textile mill district. The script/text has been arrived at after months of research which involved meeting innumerable mill workers, their families, mill land activists, union leaders, attending meetings of committees set up to consider various aspects of mill lands, presentations by activists before the courts, heritage committee meetings, and so on.

The play deals with Mumbai, its textile industry, and the girni kamgar, the textile mill worker. Spaces with potent memories, sub-cultures, inhabitants, and processes, but now invisible to the city and its inhabitants. The play is an attempt to listen in, eavesdrop on voices, murmurings, and silences from these spaces. It identifies the movements, patterns, and points-of-view which emerge from here -- be it: the communists, Shiv Sena, Datta Samant, the official Congress Party, the arrival of the mafia, and finally, globalisation.

In other words, the play creates a city narrative that has impacted the unsung heroes and workers in this city. Having absorbed the ethos of a space, we hope to tell a tale of this "other" city. The inspiration behind staging shows of Cotton 56, Polyester 84 is to familiarise audiences with the astonishing journey in the life of an ordinary girni kamgar.

The mill workers of Girangaon brought with them rich local cultures from their hometowns and villages. These diverse cultures coalesced into a unique form that has been a strong influence on Mumbai's culture. The play explores this through language, song and music. The play, originally written in English, has been translated into Hindi by playwright, director and actor, Chetan Datar.

A Background to the Play

More than hundred thousand mill workers have lost their jobs as a result of the massive retrenchment in the textile mills in Mumbai. Known as the Girni Kamgar in Mumbai, these workers were the life-blood of the city. Besides work, their existence has been liberally peppered with povadas and lok natyas, which have origins in the local art forms of Maharashtra. At the height of their glory, these songs found an eager audience amongst the public in the city!

Today, along with the Girni Kamgar, these art forms are vanishing! And along with it the heterodoxy - of this ONCE great city. Tastes have metamorphosed. Blame it on the times. On the lack of the organized Left, or the rise of extreme sectarian politics; or the arrival of a mafia, and a globalised work order. Or even that anonymous thing: kismat.

Please click here for the Mumbai Theatre Guide review of the play

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