MAHATMA BANAM GANDHI

Group: Chetana

Dramatist: Ajit Dalvi

Director: Sujan Mukhopadhyay

Recommended: ★★★★

Review:

By now we should have had a Bengali version of Ajit Dalvi’s Marathi Gandhi viruddh Gandhi, especially since the original production directed by Chandrakant Kulkarni came here in 1997, and Feroz Khan’s English edition Mahatma vs Gandhi in 1998, starring Naseeruddin Shah. Better late than never, because Arun Mukhopadhyay of Chetana stepped in to fill the gap by translating the English script and Sujan Mukhopadhyay directed it as Mahatma Banām Gandhi. Even though the narrative (based on Dinkar Joshi’s Gujarati novel) skirts political history in favour of the personal, tracing Gandhiji’s troubled ties with his eldest son Harilal, it becomes the default play to see for Bengalis who don’t know much about Gandhiji’s family life (besides Mangolik’s Bāpu, if it still runs).

As in many a home, a father’s upbringing of his son forms the crux of this drama: does he indulge the child or discipline him? Of course, the solution lies somewhere in between, dependent also on the other variable of how the mother treats him, for parents must balance each other. Should Gandhiji have supported Harilal’s request for a foreign education and not another candidate’s, a decision that alienated Harilal for good? If Gandhiji had done so, his conscience would have rebelled for favouring his own flesh and blood. This and later what-ifs engage our thoughts as we watch.

Sujan directs these relations delicately, a difficult thing to do when he himself performs as Harilal too. His acting is his most challenging and best to date, for he creates various looks and characterizations as the unstable Harilal alters personalities dramatically, pushed by circumstances (like his wife’s death) and extreme choices as well as his love-hate for his father. Opposite him, Anirban Chakraborty depicts a strong and silent yet conflicted Gandhiji, whose mind seems to work overtime about his prodigal son—an equally tough but laudable job. Nibedita Mukhopadhyay as Kasturba completes the principal triangle (photo), stretched taut emotionally between loyalty to her husband and protection of her son, yet with a mischievous sense of humour. Leading the excellent supporting cast is Mary Acharya (Harilal’s wife) in an endearing part cut short by her death.

I have only two critical comments. As I pointed out in my review of Swapna-sandhani’s Eklā Chalo Re, to start with the assassin’s shots and move into flashback has turned into a cliché in plays on the Mahatma. Secondly, the static set upstage and conventional zonal blocking, alternating among centrestage and downstage left or right, make the shifting of scenes too predictable (apart from the unexpected, sprawling Ramlila–Muharram riots) for an otherwise superlative production. A final word of appreciation must go out to the makeup duo of Md. Ali and Ayan Ghosh, whose quickfire art backstage ensures the many facial changes over the years in both Gandhiji and Harilal.