It is a unique experience to see a play in the context of a performance that has been specially organized for members of a political party. A recent show of Dyanesh Maharao’s JINKU YA DAHAHI DISHA at the Shivaji Mandir in Dadar provided one such opportunity. The show in question was arranged for the members of Raj Thackeray’s newly formed political party called the ‘Maharashtra NavNirmarn Sena’ (MNC) which has split from its parent party, the Shiv Sena. The occasion was in honour of the 33rd death anniversary of Prabodhankar Thackeray. A brief introduction to Prabodhankar Thackeray and to the occasion will not be out of place here, especially since I have chosen to review the play with the preceding event and my fellow audience in mind.
Better known today as the Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray’s father, Keshav Sitaram Thackeray came to be widely recognized as Prabodhankar Thackeray because of his articles in his forthnightly magazine called Prabodhan. Known to be outspoken to the point of being blunt, Prabodhankar Thackeray it seems was progressive in his outlook. In his lifetime he gained eminence as a social activist and writer. He was against caste biases and supported the empowerment of women. But he also was a proponent of Hindu nationalism and more pertinently of the Marathi manoos; two similar ideologies that inspired the formation of the Shiv Sena by his son Bal Thackeray and which to date dominate its politics.
Given his keen interest in Maharastrain revivalism and pride, Prabodhankar Thackeray played a key role in the Samyukta Maharahtra movement of the fifties which ultimately saw the cessation of the erstwhile State of Bombay. At the same time one is likely to find people who feel that Prabodhankar Thackeray’s ideology was vastly different from the one that his son, Bal Thackeray came to eventually embrace. In this regard there is no need to spell out the Shiv Sena’s image which has only received a further dent with the split that Bal Thackeray’s nephew, Raj Thackeray has made.
To return to the occasion- First time playwright Dyanesh Maharao also took the opportunity to introduce his edition of Prabodhankar Thackeray’s work. The slim book titled Jwalat Hindutva is a compilation of lectures by Prabodhankar Thackeray and includes excerpts from his other select works like Shanimaahatmya and his autobiography Maazi Jeevangaatha. The guests of honour included the eminent Lokshahir (People’s poet), Shahir Sable and Raj Thackeray himself. As Raj Thackeray took the mike the audience cheered him loudly. He exhorted his party members to read his grandfather’s book and professed his long friendship with Dyanesh Maharao who also happens to be the editor of Chitralekha in Marathi. Speeches made, the show finally began.
Given the scenario in which the performance took place I felt myself to be instantly tuned in with the audience reception of the play and the event at large. And given the subject of the play (which I will soon elaborate on), the occasion, the show and the audience not only contribute to an interpretation of the play but such an interpretation is more significantly a comment on the way in which art is produced and consumed. Maharao’s play assumes a narrative mode in which the narrator (sutradhar) chances upon a boy who is taken to be a representative of today’s Indian youth. The boy is shown to be lost in his one track mind of pursuing pleasure and is bombarded by the thoughts of the unending classes in school and college that engender competition.
Very soon the familiar tirade against globalization, mall culture and increasing pressures on the job is played out. The youth is cast as a disgruntled and an aimless lot and the sutradhar sees this as an opportunity to play his drama out- quite literally for no sooner the stage begins to look like a Tamasha phad. The boy asks the sutradhar who might show him the way and the sutradhar instantly evokes the tradition of the lokshahirs. The lokshahirs in their turn evoke historical figures like Shivaji and Shahu Maharaj and social activists and freedom fighters like Jyotirao Phule and Dr. B.R.Ambedkar. The play stresses on the lost tradition of the lokshahir and then moves on to critique the appropriation of history to meet vested interests.
On the face of it Maharao’s play appears progressive and contemporary. First it starts off with a concern for the youth, next it wants to set history right and lastly it debunks caste hierarchy. But very soon its political correctness stares large in your face. Even if one were to forgive its clichéd and unbalanced representation of today’s young generation and the problems faced by a new India, there is hardly anything that is refreshing in the text. With the exception of some brilliant, evocative and the incisive poetry of shahirs set to music and for some good acting in parts, the play ironically enough begins to resemble the very political agenda that it seeks to repudiate. A long chunk of the text is given to Shivaji, the first figure from the ‘blast of the past’ to make an appearance.
To understand what the figure of Shivaji means to the cadre of parties like the MNC and the Shiv Sena one only has to attend their gatherings; in this case the play. Back rows of the audience packed with young party members, most of them boys immediately began chanting cries in Shivaji’s honour as the actor made his entry on the stage. Things seemed a little bright when in his historical avataar, the actor first urged the audience to rather get his history right than treat him as a demagogue. And the audience listened. But soon the history was watered down to playing the political card. Shivaji emphasized that he was secular rather than sectarian, that he had close aides like Haider Ali in his kingdom and so on. He went on to talk about how caste did not matter to him and of the role that he had played for Swaraj. He further dealt with popular misconceptions like his sword being the gift from goddess Bhavani when actually it was his mother Jijabai who had gifted it to him.