Laying bare a revolutionary

Updated: Nov 02, 2019, 08:29 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

A play by Piyush Mishra to open at Royal Opera House highlights the life of Bhagat Singh

A scene from the play
A scene from the play

Fun fact: Bhagat Singh loved rasgullas. He also made women go weak in the knees (understandable, given his handsome face and tall, strapping body). But he resisted their overtures with the stoicism of a person who had shunned worldly pleasures for a greater good. The man liked singing. He often wrote poetry, and was rarely ever seen without a book in his hand. And yet, all we really know him to be is a heroic revolutionary who died for the country at the tender age of 23.

It's to shed light on his life beyond that basic fact that Piyush Mishra wrote Gagan Damama Bajyo, a play that's coming to Mumbai for three days starting tomorrow, 25 years after he conceived it. Mishra — an acclaimed Bollywood personality — tells us that there are various other titbits about Singh's life that have been largely ignored down the years, even as the man was put on a pedestal by both sides of the political divide. For instance, there was a plot that Chandrashekhar Azad, Singh's mentor, had laid to bomb the assembly.

Piyush Mishra
Piyush Mishra

Singh put his hand up saying he wanted to do it. But Azad would have none of it. He told the youngster that he was too precious to the subversive organisation he headed to be handed the risky job. That's when Singh reasoned with him, saying he had the right revolutionary mindset to carry out the act. But more crucially — and this is where Singh's intellectual acumen is on full display — he also said that he had command over English unlike the others in the group. So, when the plotters would have to face the press after the bombing, he'd be able to articulate their thoughts and motivations better than the rest, leaving Azad with no counter to this logic.

Mishra tells us, "The year 1994, when I wrote Gagan Damama Bajyo, was a troubled period in India's history. Some people had squeezed the life out of the country. And given the situation, we were looking for a hero back then, someone like Shah Rukh Khan, someone like Salman Khan. And that's when I thought of Bhagat Singh, the biggest hero of that century, a fair, 5 ft 10 inch-tall sardar, a giant of intellectuals. But no one really knew about him. Instead, we were told in NCERT textbooks that Bhagat Singh was a blood-thirsty revolutionary. He was a terrorist. He bombed the assembly. He killed John Saunders. Arre nahin yaar! Woh sab toh bahut chhoti baatein hain. There was a lot that went on outside of these things. And the play reveals those facets, but keeping in mind that this is theatre. It's not a documentary. So people should have fun watching it."

Himanshu Talreja as Bhagat Singh
Himanshu Talreja as Bhagat Singh

Hence, there are 13 songs and multiple dance sequences. Himanshu Taneja essays the lead role, for which he got into the skin of the character by reading books on socialism and even writing imaginary letters to people like Sukhdev and Rajguru, Singh's fellow revolutionaries. The plot structure is such that the narrator is a fictitious character named Markhand Trivedi a Judas of sorts, who travels back and forth in time to rid himself of the guilt of having betrayed the martyr. It's essentially a serious story. "But the first takeaway that I hope the audience has is having had fun," Mishra reiterates. And if that's your idea of spending a Sunday evening, or the start of the week, catch the play in any of the two diverse venues where it will be staged for the Mumbai audience.

On November 3, 4 and 5; 7 pm, 6 pm and 9 pm
At Royal Opera House, Girgaum (November 3) and Prithvi Theatre, Juhu.
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Cost Rs 500

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