Direction : Vipul Mahagaonkar
Writer : Vipul Mahagaonkar
Cast : Chandrashekar Gokhale, Prasad Sawant, Ujwal Mantri, Rohit Mane, Rohit Khude, Kalyani Pathare and Narendra Mathura


Jayashree Hari Joshi


KHIDKI is an intelligently staged, well-designed production of Dario Fo's famous 1970 political satire: AN ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST. Fo, who passed away a little while ago at the age of 90, had acquired cult status for his subversive humour and for heralding the cause of Left-wing politics. Vipul Mahagaonkar has successfully cited current references and witticisms and has made valid improvisations to the original play. The original text has been altered to resonate with the Indian political situation, by the author and director´s own admission. The adaptation has been done with sensitivity, especially the references to the 2012 Mumbai riots when women police were attacked.

The play opens with Inspector Bhagwat interrogating The Maniac on the third floor of the police station. The Maniac constantly outsmarts the low IQ Bhagwat. Later when Bhagwat exits, he intercepts a phone call from Inspector Phadke. The call lets The Maniac know that a judge is due at the police station to investigate the interrogation and death of the anarchist. The officers, ACP Jadhav, Inspector Phadke and a constable, who were present during the alleged suicide, occupy the room. Masquerading as the senior examining magistrate in the case, the suave Maniac entraps the police force in his wild machinations. The Maniac's cross-examination reduces the police officers to sniveling wrecks, finally eliciting the truth of what happened that night. Another layer of moral complexity to the fast-moving final act is added by the appearance of investigative journalist Kalyani, who is trying to probe the events.

Dario Fo said in an interview, "The events upon which the play is based took place in 1969. A bomb exploded in the center of Milan, near the Duomo. Sixteen died. The police blamed the anarchists, one of whom, Giovanni Pinelli, they seized. Later on he was thrown from a window at the police headquarters. There is considerable evidence that Pinelli's death was murder, not an accident as the police claimed, so the title Accidental Death of an Anarchist, is ironic. We are sure it was not an accident. . . . It was murder. . . . But this is the official police characterisation of the event. The case was filed as an ''accidental death.''

To underscore the irony, the play has alternative endings; The Maniac leaves the audience to decide which one they prefer - an idealistic one or the practical one? Humour is skillfully woven into the whole play. The play intensifies towards the end. The production design is complemented by a simple but well-designed set - with props reminiscent of a secret police office— desk, chairs and dusty filing cabinets plus the photo of the 'leader'.

KHIDKI is a commentary on how the establishment tries to suppress left-wing organisations and workers' unions. While commenting on the right-wing agenda to suppress the leftist movement, the play also exposes the fallacy of the left wing. In one scene, when a bomb is about to explode, Fatima, the journalist, and The Maniac indulge in dialectics about violence and what is right and wrong. The need for discourse among the left wing hasn't always resulted in substantial action and that is what the play suitably criticises.

The performances are par excellence. Chandrashekhar Gokhale, a veteran of the theatre, plays The Incredible Maniac. He has won the Best Actor award at the Zee Natya Gaurav awards plus other similar accolades. Rohit Mane excels in his role as Inspector Phadke with comic timing and a spirited performance.

The ethical question one asks while exiting the auditorium is the strange obsession on the part of Indian theatre persons about meddling with the texts of classic plays. Inserting a new interpretation and altering the text in the name of "adaptation" has become the norm. So, is this Dario Fo's play? No. One reason may be that there is a strange notion that the Left politics of mid-20th century Italy should be simplified for the mind of the Marathi audience. In my view, this is an insult to the Marathi people.

Having said that Vipul Mahagaonkar is rated as one of the most promising Marathi theatre directors talents today. He adds another feather to his cap after the critically acclaimed play PAI PAISHACHI GOSHTA.

*Jayashree Hari Joshi has done her M. Phil. Her thesis is a comparative study of Rasvighna / Natyashastra and the Experimental Theatre of Bertolt Brecht. She is working with the Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan Mumbai as Officer - Cultural Programmes.

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