CHHAVANI Play Review

Vidyadhar Date

Direction : Manjul Bharadwarj
Cast : Ashwini Nandedkar, Sayali Pawaskar, Komal Khamkar and Tushar Mhaske


Chhavani is the title of Premanand Gajvi's new play; it is not the army cantonment but one of Naxalites in Vidarbha region. He gives us a completely new perspective on the Naxalite question as he has done on other issues in the last forty years. The play opened with three shows at Shivaji Mandir in Mumbai on June 15 . It was performed on a bare stage with no backdrop of the Naxal camp.

Many of the recruits in the Naxalite movement are Dalits though Brahmins and other upper castes have played a prominent part in the ideological framework in the initial days. He hails from Vidarbha and he knows the system.

He does not quote Mao's famous observation because he is not in the Marxist tradition, else he would have. Mao said, `A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.' That was way back in 1927.

It is topical because many of us have romantic ideas of revolution, many people who can be described as bourgeois, middle class, like to flaunt a picture of Che Guevara, unaware how hard life is as a revolutionary, the amount of sacrifices that it demands.

The production of the play by Theatre of Relevance and Bodhi Natya Parishad is gripping in its two-hour long narrative without a break. No big names in the cast but very forceful are the actors.

The main characters are the camp leader, a woman whose Naxalite father has given her the unusual name Marx Mao, so she is called MM by others. Then there is her son, who does not believe in her ideology. He loves a hardcore Naxalite girl, his mother's close aide, who is obsessed with revenge because her family is a victim of the Khairlanji rape and murder case in Bhandara district. And the fourth is a girl from a priestly family who is disillusioned with the orthodox structure so she is drawn as a recruit.

Gajvi shows that the Naxal leadership has the same hunger for power like other politicians and one of the issues he raises is where do these people get money from for all the ammunition and maintenance, the camp in the play has a force of some 7000 armed people.

The play contends that peace and abiding by the Constitution should lead the way, not violence, and this was made clear in the introduction made by director Manjul Bharadwarj to the audience.

Very foreceful acting by Ashwini Nandedkar as MM, followed by Sayali Pawaskar, Komal Khamkar and Tushar Mhaske.

It happened to be Gajvi's 75th birthday so he was felicitated in a warm but simple way by his team. There were no speeches. Instead members of the audience were invited to give their reactions to the play and all talked of the deep impact it made on them.

I visited the Naxalite areas in Telangana in the 1980s as a member of a fact finding team to probe the violence among rival Naxalite groups. It was a revelation. We heard the most disturbing stories from women victims who spoke in the local dialect which we of course could not understand. But their narration still remains in memory. It was a unique theatre experience if one can say so.

(Vidydhar Date is a senior journalist and former drama critic of Times of India)

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