Play: Satyashodhak, 1992
Written by: G.P. Deshpande
Directed by: Sudhanva Deshpande, Jana Natya Manch
‘Satyashodhak’ was written by G.P. Deshpande, and was first performed by Jana Natya Manch (JANAM) under the direction of Sudhanva Deshpande in September 1992. Originally written in Marathi, the play was translated into Hindi by Chandrakant Patil. Deshpande’s plays reject the notion of history as grand and glorified and instead engage with marginalized narratives of society. In ‘Satyashodhak’, Deshpande takes up the question of caste, and class and their interrelation and overlaps.
According to Makarand Sathe, the play is significant for its interventions in Marathi theatre, which has “historically disregarded the caste reality to a great extent.” Through illustrations from Phule’s life, the play makes an attempt to rescue Jyotiba Phule from the limitations of the image of a ‘social reformer’ and provides a strong commentary on caste and class through the life of Phule, who was “not only one of the most important social reformers, he was also one of the first playwrights in Marathi.” (Makarand Sathe, A Socio-Political History of Marathi Theatre: Thirty Nights, 2015, 1203)
Deshpande explores the basic principles behind Phule’s politics and ideology. Revealing the relationship between economic exploitation and the caste system, the play reinterprets sociopolitical history by quoting incidents and speeches from Phule’s life. By reflecting on the past, the play comments on existing issues of caste, class, and gender. The play shows some of the real incidents such as Phule’s journey in receiving an education, and how his life was shaped by casteism during childhood, including a particular incident in which his Brahmin friend’s family humiliated him for attending the friend’s marriage. The play explores at length Phule’s journey along with his wife, Savitri Bai, in starting schools and orphanages for all working-class and so-called lower-caste people, including widows and their children. The play ends with Phule encouraging workers to join the many unions in Bombay and other cities.
In January 2012 the play was restaged by theatre director, Atul Pethe, where all the actors, except for the lead pair, were Dalit workers from Pune Municipal Corporation’s sewage workers union. The process of preparing the performance of the play was appreciated as a meaningful experiment for political education amongst workers. Alka Acharya in The Hindu (October 9, 2013) notes that this production took Maharashtra by storm with 103 performances in the course of one year and won the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award.Satyashodhak, 1992
Source: Brochure, ‘Satyashodhak’, 1992. Image Courtesy – Anand Gupt collection/Alkazi Theatre Archives