Culture-Policing over Tamasha Na Hua

Is Debate on Gandhi Anti-national ?

Cultural policing by political parties is not new in the India.Whatever party rules - BJP, CPI(M) or Congress, we saw this kind of intolerance everywhere. In 2007 when M.F.Hussain’s Meenaxi- A Tale of Three Cities faced similar troubles in its screening in the BJP ruled Bhopal,  in Bengal also the CPI(M) backed Hooghly administration blocked the staging of a Bengali play based on George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Safdar Hashmi was killed in the open streets. In 1975 during the Congress rule the Hindi film Aandhi was banned for sometime over alleged similarities between the lead character and then Congress Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Shiv Sena opposed the world famous artist of India, M.F Hussain time and again.

Of late this cultural policing happened in Bhopal when the renowned theatre director Bhanu Bharti was invited to stage his most popular play Tamasha Na Hua (Fun did not occur). The play was written as a tribute to the great poet Rabindranath Tagore whose 150th anniversary is being celebrated this year. It was staged at Antrang Hall by Aaj Theatre Company under the Rangmandal series of Bharat Bhavan at Bhopal. But the BJP cultural unit of Bhopal wanted to overplay the anti-national sentiments in the play.

What made the party muscle men suddenly start raising a huge hue and cry over the debate on Gandhi is not clearly understood. What they did not try to understand is that the re-enactment of the 1922 play raises vital issues about man, machine and the conflict between humanity, development and nature in a contemporary light. Like the Gandhi –Subhas controversy , the Gandhi –Tagore debates are interesting for the Indian people.

On them Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1941, wrote in his jail diary, “Gandhi and Tagore, two types entirely different from each other and yet both of them typical of India, both in the long line of India’s great men…. Gandhi and Tagore were supreme as human beings.“

Tagore first called Gandhi a Mahatma or a great soul. Gandhiji called Tagore the Great Sentinel or Gurudev. However, Gandhij and Tagore also differed on many issues. Gandhiji was not quite satisfied with the Santiniketan system. When Gandhiji plunged into the freedom movement through his non-violent, non-cooperation movement changing Congress first 30 years’ movement of petition and constitutionalism to a movement of action. the poet entered into a controversy with Gandhiji In 1921 regarding the methods used.

Tagore’s differences with Mahatma Gandhi on the ideology of nationalism are given a long space for discussion. Gandhiji called Tagore ‘the skylark’ of Shelley in his Harijan patrika. But Tagore protested vehemently in Prabasi by saying that he is never the scorner of the ground like Shelley’s bird. He is like Wordsworth’s Skylark which “soars but never roam/ True to the kindred points of heaven and home”. But all these were healthy debates and they never embittered the relations between the two great souls.

Muktadhara, often hailed as one of Tagore's finest plays, is interpreted as the poet's admiration for Mahatma Gandhi's peaceful co-existential philosophy and the poet's denouncement of the machine in favour of human freedom. Bharti’s play ranges over the divergent political and social ideologies. The message in Bharti’s is clear. There is no single path, ideology or philosophy which can define freedom. But what is most interesting is that conceptual and practical problems of the contemporary theatre are also visited in Bharti’s play which is an attempt to provoke a dialogue about man’s plight in today’s world and to explore the possibility of the freedom of his body, mind and soul, which Tagore and Gandhi so keenly desired.

Much of what is written and said about subjects like Tagore and Gandhi is a blind spot for contemporary readers. Bharti’s play does not follow any particular story but, makes the theatre a place of discussing politics, society and State. The play opens depicting a group of theatre actors rehearsing one of Tagore's most popular works Muktdhara. The play leads to a serious debate about the freedom of men in the present political, technological and cultural context. The play is a tribute to the thought-provoking words of the poet who continues to exist on in the anxiety, hopes and dreams.

In this play Tamasha Na Hua, there is a theatre group rehearsing one of the most popular plays of Tagore – Muktdhara (The Waterfall). A discussion starts among the actors on the relevance of the play, which leads to a serious debate about the freedom of men in the present political, technological and cultural context. Tagore and Gandhi debate in the play is most absorbing.

In Bhanu Bharti’s play, Tagore’s universal humanism is pitted against Gandhi’s idea of nationalism. It also stirs a debate on citizen’s freedom in the current political, technological and cultural context. There are serious arguments and counter-arguments and obviously, the debate remains inconclusive and the proposed playing of Muktadhar remains unperformed.The dialogues mentioned the Farakka Barrage and its effect on Bangladesh’s agriculture and fisheries and also how the Baglihar dam on the Chenab in Jammu and Kashmir was causing water scarcity in Pakistan.

The action of the play takes place in fictional Uttarkut, ruled by an autocratic king. The waterfallflows from a headland in Uttarkut downstream to "Shiv Terai" - a valley which sustains on the cascade. The king decides to subjugate the people of "Shiv Terai" by damming the waterfall to deny them water. The royal engineer, Vibhuti, works for 25 years on a monstrous engineering contraption that looms high over a shrine of Lord Shiva to dam the waterfall at its heights. The heir to the throne, the tyrannical king's adopted son, who was found abandoned by the waterfall, frees the cascade from the confines of the dam by demolishing the machine. The torrent from the waterfall sweeps everything in its stride, including the prince who becomes a martyr for the cause of freedom.

Tamasha Na Hua is thus a play within a play. While rehearsing the play, the actors argue about its relevance in the present time and raise a crucial question - the fight between machine and man which has been bothering us for two centuries.The argument leads to a famous debate between Tagore and Gandhi about freedom. Bharti's play picks up the threads of narrative action from Yantraraj Vibhuti - the royal mechanic's endeavour to set up the damming device. The issues that the characters argue are more complex than those articulated by Tagore because machines are taking over in a big way in all spheres of our lives. Machines have become so important to human existence that it has bred an addiction for them.The dam on the waterfall symbolises this widespread mechanization. The play also touches on the other side of the dam versus man debate that big dams are important to development and existence.

Through the arguments of the rehearsing actors and the debate between Tagore and Gandhi, the audience are involved in the Marxian dialectics, the 20th century ideologue, and the romantics commenting on modernism and post-modernism . Earlier , Bangalore Little Theatre staged a play Bapu and the Poet in 2011 .“Bapu and the Poet” was first staged at Gandhiji's Sabarmati Ashram on January 30, 2009. Subsequently it was also staged at Shantiniketan and on the courtyard stage of Tagore's home in Jorashanko, Kolkata. The play was staged earlier in Bangladesh in 2010.

The Bapu and the Poet was also based on exchanges of letters and articles between Gandhi and Tagore over about 25 years with the freedom movement as the backdrop. The exchange although based on historical facts of actual correspondence was yet interspersed with imaginary dialogue for enhancing the dramatic intensity. Bhanu Bharti who graduated from NSD in 1973, bagging the Best all Round student and the Best Director awards and studied traditional theatre of Japan at the University of Tokyo had to his credit over fifty productions, his major works being Chandrama Singh urf Chamku, Ras Gandharva, Azar Ka Khawab and Yamgatha. In all these plays , he shows his penchant for innovation. His bold and faithful presentation of the Bheels of Mewar in his plays is quite scholarly and theatrically effective.

Bharti who had been a teacher in the Drama Department has taught dramatic literature, scenic design and acting in many higher education institutions, including the NSD. Besides serving as Director of the Shri Ram Centre for Art and Culture, Delhi and as the head of Bharatiya Lok Kola Manda, Udaipur, he was also the Chairman of Rajasthan Sangeet Natak Akademi and has been honoured with many prestigious National Awards for his exclusive contribution to the field of theatre including the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and Rajasthan Sahitya Akademi Award. By heckling a dramatist of such a stature, the BJP unit of Bhopal has again set an ugly example of cultural policing which is very much undesirable for healthy development of theatre and drama.


More by :  Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee

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