Direction : Manoj Shah
Writer : Uttam Gada
Cast : Satchit Puranik


Deepa Punjani

No upcoming shows.

For a theatre buff, a title like KARL MARX IN KALBADEVI is enticing. It's full of prospects, especially in a Gujarati theatre scenario that is largely bereft of any kind of meaningful entertainment, intellectual or otherwise. Such a play is all the more beguiling because its director Manoj Shah is regarded as something of a maverick in Gujarati theatre. It gets triply more exciting when Manoj Shah ventures to do a play called KARL MARX IN KALBADEVI after a series of biographical plays that make its strictly Jain protagonists appear like the rock-stars of their times. Though what might have prompted Manoj Shah, who appears to be a liberal in all other aspects, to turn into a spokesperson for a very limited and narrow vision of Gujarati culture and its people, can be another story.

KARL MARX IN KALBADEVIToh Uttam Gada likhit ane Manoj Shah dikdarshit KARL MARX IN KALBADEVI was staged at the recently concluded NCPA Vasant Gujarati Natya Utsav. The quirky title is full of promise of the kind not witnessed on the Gujarati stage in a long time. This one-person play is ably enacted by Satchit Puranik, who in the full-swing of his monologue, and at a breakneck tempo, both redeems and destroys the play, though there isn't much to salvage any way. Uttam Gada's script, apart from the curious novelty of its title, is a very simplistic re-telling of Karl Marx, further compromised by its need to accommodate the inveterate Gujarati predilection for money-making. Now, ain't that ironic?

Hence in an utterly simplified context, Marx says towards the end of the play that he is not against capitalism per se, or more pertinently, he has no problem with venture capitalism that promotes innovation and technology. And, can references to the Ambanis be missing in a true blue Gujju play? Oh, no. So what if they are couched in the rich v/s the poor story and of how it's ok for someone to have their own jet set life, but hey, please think about the many poor who line our roads. We Indians just love to moralise. If such sophistry wasn't enough, Mahatma Gandhi contends with Marx. Ok, so we have had a great philosopher too.

Marx's views on capitalism are in fact being studied in new light after the financial crisis of 2008. He may have been completely wrong about communism (we have history to prove that) but his readings of capitalism have never seemed more urgent. Yet these are theories that need to be understood in context. Gada's script in an effort to perhaps make Marx digestible to his audience is way too safe and predictable. To be fair, the play's humanism is evident but in spite of little scenes from Marx's life, his philosophy comes across as warped. There is no critique whatsoever and no remarkable thesis to support the constant refrain that Marx is much misunderstood. There are plenty of attempts at humour though, some of it good but much of it repetitive and lame, as if the writer, director and actor together have arrived at a pre-emptive solution for keeping their audience in their seats.

Satchit Puranik is actually able to do that in his impersonation of the great philosopher; he even looks the part but by the end of the show he is all over the place with his bags, files, newspapers, books and water bottles. He may have completed a marathon of a monologue but it need not have been shoddy. In spite of its obvious shortcomings do watch this play as and when there might be more shows. I recommend it only on the grounds that its soft and easy approach to a gigantic figure in world history is with good intent. It's also true that attempts like these are few and far between. And yet I would dare these mavericks to be more risky and provoking; to not stop at the title but to go the whole hog.

*Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.

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