Welcome to Murgistaan

What happens when people are put through brainwashing machines? Watch Mirror Merchant’s new play to find out

Murgistaan is ruled by Maharaj Lazeezchand Galauti Tikka who, apart from playing Kaju Katli Crush and going for trips to ‘strengthen foreign relations’, has one more hobby — imposing bans.

Recently, he banned paneer and imposed PETA (Paneer Eradication in Totality Act) in his country. He also bans random words at whim. But, his subjects never raise their voice. There is no disagreement or dissent in Murgistaan. Everyone seems to love the monarch.

Actors Suhas Chatkara, Aritro Banerjee, Raj Kashyap and Delnaz Divecha rehearse for the play. Pic/Shadab Khan

Seems being the operational word.

To maintain peace in his kingdom, Mahraj Tikka uses the brainwashing machine invested by his Supreme Sidekick, aka SS. The device helps the king keep any kind of dissent at bay, making his subjects unquestioningly follow his decrees.

Based on Satyajit Ray’s 1980 film, Hirok Rajar Deshe, Mirror Merchant’s new play Murgistan, opens at Temperance in Bandra on July 19. It’s a comedy with political subtext. The Ray film was set in Hirok Deshe whose subjects had been brainwashed — all but a certain school teacher, who spoke against the king’s subversive ways. The film follows the school teacher’s struggle to free his land.

“The issues we are facing today — bans and brainwashing by religious leaders — are so many, and interrelated to one another that it was difficult to pick and address just one,” says Arnesh Ghose, the 26-year-old writer/director of the play.

Ghose, a journalist, points out that like Ray’s Utpal Dutt-starrer, although the issues tackled in his play are serious, the treatment isn’t. “I didn’t want it to be an outright revolutionary play. The issues are tackled but seem like sidenotes, almost. My play is also for those who are coming for a Sunday evening laugh. At first glance, it is all nonsense humour. But yes, if you delve deeper and unravel the layers, the subtext appears.”

Although it is a ‘sugarcoated pill’ the wrapping is not opaque. The tagline of the play’s title is ‘Kachchey Din’, and, when Ghose calls the kingdoms two communities Murgistaan Handis and Mussallams, the reference is hard to miss. “Even today, in cities as cosmopolitan as Mumbai, members of the minority community find it difficult to rent an apartment. They are forced to live in the fringes, huddled up. Apart from religion, there is segregation based on gender and caste. But, at the end of the day we are all the same, made of flesh and blood. That is the message of my play — you can make any dish you want, be it murgh mussallam or handi murgh. Murgi toh murgi rehti hai. And, we say this through a funny song.”

Although, the play imports the brainwashing device along with the autocratic ruler from Ray’s classic, and some of the dialogues and songs are literal translations of the Bengali original, the rehearsal reveals another inspiration. The toys that form the brainwashed subjects are direct descendents of the mechanical, emotionless, rule-bound common people of Rabindranath Tagore’s dance drama Tasher Desh (Land of Card, for which the Nobel laureate drew inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland). “More than Tagore’s original, its recent film adaptation by Q has worked as a visual inspiration for the play,” reveals Ghose. “While Ray’s film was a scathing criticism of the Emergency of 1975-1977 imposed by the Indira Gandhi government, Tagore’s dance drama was a commentary on a society strapped sagged by strict and often redundant rules, and Caroll’s was about the rigidity of the British class system. Although, decades have passed, has anything really changed?" Ghose wonders.

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