Directed By: Sujan Mukherjee
Cast: Sujan Mukherjee, Adhikary Koushik, Nivedita Mukherjee, Monalisa Das and others
Ghashiram Kotwal is a Marathi play written by playwright Vijay Tendulkar in 1972 as a response to the rise of a local political party, Shiv Sena, in Maharashtra. The play is a political satire, written as historical drama. It is based on the life of Nana Phadnavis (1741–1800), one of the prominent ministers in the court of the Peshwa of Pune and Ghashiram Kotwal, the police chief of the city. Its theme is how men in power give rise to ideologies to serve their purposes, and later destroy them when they become useless. It was first performed on 16 December 1972, by the Progressive Drama Association in Pune. Jabbar Patel’s production of the play in 1973 is considered a classic in Modern Indian Theatre.
The play begins with an invocation to lord Ganesha. Then the Brahmins of Pune introduce themselves and we can see the morally corrupt state of affairs in Pune. Nana Phadnavis who is the Diwan (Chief Secretary) of Pune is also corrupt and visits the lavani dancer. Ghashiram is working with the lavani dancer. Ghashiram being a Brahmin goes to collect alms at the Peshwa’s festival the next day. However he is ill-treated there and is charged with pick-pocketing and imprisoned for the offence. He then decides to take revenge. So the play continues on to reach the next part of this play.
Ghashiram barters his own daughter to get the post of Kotwal (police chief) of Pune from Nana. Having got the post he begins to enforce strict rules in the city. He starts asking for permits for everything and starts throwing people in jail for the smallest offences. In the mean time, Ghashiram’s daughter is impregnated by Nana, and dies during childbirth. The situation goes out of hand when a few people in the jail die from suffocation. The Brahmins then complain to the Peshwa. The Peshwa summons Nana who orders Ghashiram to be killed in the most inhumane way possible.
REVIEW OF THE PLAY-
Having heard about this Marathi musical drama nearly two decades ago, I was keen to watch it once again. The opportunity presented itself a few days ago when it was re-staged by the Chetana theatre group.
Written by the late Vijay Tendulkar in the seventies and directed by Dr Jabbar Patel, this play irked many an ire and was even banned for a while.
The setting is the eighteenth century and the story is based on Ghashiram Sawardas who is the main protagonist (and not Nanasaheb Phadnavis). Ghashiram trades his daughter Lalita Gauri to Nana Phadnavis in exchange for the position of Kotwal (police chief) of Pune.
Nana Phadnavis is caricatured as a lecherous old fogy who chases teenage girls. The Brahmins of Pune are portrayed as drunken debauchees who make discreet nocturnal visits to dancing girls. Sadly, women are portrayed as pawns in the hands of men. It is actually a political satire on our times. Only a psychopath would ever think of doing these things, only a psychopath would dream of abusing other people in such a way, only a psychopath would treat people as less than human just for money. The shocking truth is, even though they now have most if not all of the money, they want still more, they want all of the money that you have left in your pockets, they want it all because they have no empathy with other people, with other creatures, they have no feeling for the world which they exploit, they have no love or sense of being or belonging for their souls are dead, dead to all things but greed and a desire to rule over others.
The entire play is a musical show casing all the Marathi folk art forms –‘abhang’,’ kirtan’, ‘powada’, ‘lejhim’, and of course the ‘lavani’.There is even a ‘qawwali’ in the latest version of this drama! The director’s musical score is a sheer treat. Vijay Tendulkar has penned subtle and not-so-subtle nuances in each and every line, causing one to smile throughout and laugh heartily ever so often. A classic example is “Pundalik Vardaan ‘Gauri’ Vithal” – where the word “Hari” has been replaced by Gauri,an obvious reference to Lalita Gauri !
The star of this show in those days undoubtedly was the person, whose portrayal of Nana Phadnavis is unrivalled. Presently this drama is staged on a modest scale with a smaller cast. Unfortunately the present actors are not even a patch on their predecessors who performed when this drama was in its heyday. All except one. The lead singer’s voice lent itself very well to every note. I must apologise for being unable to catch his name when the credits were announced.
An enjoyable experience for theatre lovers provided one has a good grasp of Marathi and Maharashtrian culture.