Recasting History through Theatre: Analysing Ramu Ramanathan’s ‘Mahadevbhai 1892-1942’ through Production Pamphlet
In a 2006 Hindustan Times article by Geetanjali Dang, Jamini Pathak, the solo performer of the play, Mahadevbhai 1892-1942, notes, “The play is ultimately a political comment on our times, as much as it is an analysis of our freedom struggle. Received wisdom is as dangerous as received cynicism.”
Mahadevbhai 1892 – 1942, a monologue written and directed by Ramu Ramanathan, and presented by the Working Title group, premiered at the Prithvi Theatre Festival in November, 2002. The play is based on the daily diary writings of Mahadev Desai who served not only as a secretary to Mahatma Gandhi, but also as his scribe and manager. Through letters, events and discourses curated from the diary, the play counters the anti-democratic, violent and communal politics of 2002.
Drawing from a biographical source, the play builds a relationship between theatre and history by underlining the fact that recasting a figure from the past, akin to building a character, is an creative act, similar to the act of history writing itself. Based on archival material, historical plays not only chronicle a certain past, but in the process of dramatization re-imagine it.
By unearthing the past through the reintroduction of a lesser known historical agent – Mahadev Desai, the play allows its audience to look at history in a nuanced manner and in ways that otherwise escapes the conventional narrative. Such characters through their marginalized agency allow for an alternate point of view and offer a refined commentary on historical events. The play extracts the past from Mahadev Desai’s diary to forge a relationship with the present milieu, challenging contemporary dominant political discourses.
All Courtesy: Anand Gupt Collection/ Alkazi Theatre Archives