Play: Gandhi, 1993
Written and directed by: Prasanna, National School of Drama, New Delhi
The play, ‘Gandhi’, directed by Prasanna for National School Drama final year students was first performed from the 9th to 13th of March in 1993. The play begins with a group of students on stage wanting to perform a play on Gandhi. But their teacher tries to persuade them otherwise given the volatile atmosphere in the country. Nevertheless, the students convince their teacher and the stage becomes a courtroom for the trial of Nathuram Godse.
The next act of the play deals with Hind Swaraj and Gandhi’s criticism of Machinery. The actor enacting Godse intervenes and an intense debate between him and Gandhi on the question of violence, Satyagraha, and the text of Gita happens. Gandhi insists that Mahabharat is not a mere unfolding of events but Dharamayuddha. The actor playing Godse loses his control and attacks the actor performing Gandhi. The teacher intervenes and gets hurt in the process.
The next act shows the actor playing Godse going through deep anguish for hurting the teacher, though inadvertently. The teacher comforts him and asks the students to bring the discussion back to Gandhi and Ahimsa. Again the scene ends with heated arguments about the Partition and Noakhali riots of 1946.
Act four shows a comic interlude where three comedians resembling Winston Churchill, Gandhi, and Charlie Chaplin enact a comic scene that happens in London, during the Round Table Conference. Tagore’s essay on Gandhi’s fast in Poona for eradication of untouchability is also enacted. The play ends with Gandhi breaking his fast and the cast singing Tagore’s song Ekla Chalo Re.
Time and again the two characters of Indian history are brought to the fore. The emergence of Hindutva forces in the 1990s and their dominance in today’s time make the play all-time relevant. Historians and scholars have always talked about the subject — who killed Gandhi and why, and obviously, the discussion and answers have never ended with Godse. Especially when communal riots are rampant, a minority community is the target of the majority community, and the demand for Hindu rashtra is voiced again and again, it rightfully shows that a play can never escape its past and contemporary realities. It was the year when Gopal Godse, brother of Nathuram Godse published his book, Why I Assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, in December 1993. The director, Prasanna expresses his thoughts- “after half a decade truth has once again taken the Centre stage; though it looks as if a big lie has taken center stage. The collapse of socialism and the destruction of Babri Masjid both shook us badly. Precisely for this reason I want to be once again a proud Indian…” (Brochure of the play Gandhi for NSD, 9th-13th March 1993)Gandhi
Image Courtesy: Brochure, ‘Gandhi’, March 9 – 13, 1993. Image Courtesy – Anand Gupt collection/Alkazi Theatre Archives