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Alkazi Theatre Archives

Notes from the Archive

September 7, 2020

Mitti Ki Gadi

Image courtesy: Alkazi Theatre Archives

During the month of September, the Alkazi Theatre Archives will be looking into Classical Indian Literature and its on-stage adaptations during colonial and post-colonial times. One of the most widely recognized plays of Sanskrit origin is Śūdraka’s Mṛcchakatika (The Little Clay Cart). Considered to be written during the first quarter of the fifth century BCE, during the end of the Pradyota dynasty, this ten-act play is set in the ancient city of Ujjayni, unfolding the story of two lovers,  Cārudatta, an impoverished, but virtuous Brahmin and  Vasantasena, a wealthy courtesan. A linear story of romance, where the two lovers depart and reconcile with twist of fate, the play is often perceived to be a derivation of Bhasa’s  Cārudatta in Poverty. Mṛcchakatika has been written using both Sanskrit and Prakrit, although most of the characters speak Prakrit, making the text devoid of the rigidity of classical grammar. Creating this dichotomy between languages, the play-text not only explores the theme of class binaries, but also writes literature for and about the common man in their own language. Unlike other play-texts of its time, Mṛcchakatika portrays a fictional scenario drawing from its social realities, and projecting binaries between an oligarchic familial unit and the structures of struggles of marginalized class. With a political subplot in play, where King Pālaka’s throne is threatened by Ãryaka, a cowherd’s son, the play intertwines the course of overthrowing of an oppressive regime by the common man, by grounding itself to a mundane narrative and exploring unrepresented themes of poverty, political power, the system of justice and class-antagonism.

Image: Mitti Ki Gadi (in Hindi), Dir. Ebrahim Alkazi, NSD, 1974. 

Image details: RT Rama as Vasantasena

This play was staged at the Kalidas Samaroh (1974) in Ujjain and the same year was performed all over Haryana, these were the first inter-state performances by NSD students.