Sumedha Raikar-Mhatre: Hushed prayers
Why can’t devotion be low on the decibel? A Marathi play written in the 1990s, advocating a not-so-popular stance finds votaries in Mumbai and Bangalore too
In 2003, C P Deshpande’s play Dhol Tashe received the Maharahstra Foundation award for playwriting. Now, Pune-based director Mohit Takalkar (right) has launched its Kannada version, titled Beediyolagondu Maneya Maadi (Having Built a House on the Street). PIC/MANDAR TANNU
Shiv Sena leader Raj Thackeray was seated in the first row at Dadar’s Shivaji Mandir to watch C P Deshpande’s (Champra) iconic play Dhol Tashe in June 2000. As director Vijay Kenkre invited dignitaries and press backstage for the customary batata wada and cutting chai during the interval, Thackeray said he appreciated the commonsensical point made by the play — devotion towards Lord Ganesh or any God can be expressed without generating loud beats of the dhol (drum), tashe (kettle drum) and other percussion instruments; God appreciates serene prayers over uncontrolled festive revelry. He said if the play was “simplified” it could be mounted at Mumbai’s Shiv Sena shakhas.
The cast was happy to hear Thackeray’s proposal to use Dhol Tashe as an educational tool, although he did not specify what exactly he wanted to simplify; and what, as per his perception, was complex in the peace teachings of 17th century Bhakti movement poet-saint Tukaram that formed the basis of the 120-minute long play.
Bangalore’s Rangashankra theatre has planned a month-long tour of the play in adjoining villages.
Neither Champra nor director Kenkre pursued the matter as Thackeray got busy on the family front. In 2006, after a noisy dispute with his uncle, he left the Sena and formed the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. He presented an alternative blueprint for Mumbai’s progress which unfortunately did not offer much on ways to curb noise pollution. It is another matter that his new Sena united with the Shiv Sena in their belief in conducting high-decibel religious-cultural jamborees in the silence zone of Shivaji Park. Shiv Sena’s annual Dussehra rally repeatedly flouted Supreme Court guidelines; Raj Thackeray’s (Maharashtra’s New Year) Gudi Padwa rally touched a deafening 119.4 decibels; Thackeray has gone on record stating that Hindus should not shy away from celebrating their festivals. When Raj Thackeray was with the Shiv Sena, he had justified the Maha-aartis (prayers in public) as a means for people to vent their emotions after a bomb blast.
The intervening years have witnessed grand rock-concert-scale socio-religious commemorations (across religions in most metros), and there has been an uproar of ensuing litigation over the noise they breed. And Dhol Tashe, ideologically against the noise culture, also has had a colourful trajectory ever since it was mounted by the reputable theatre group, Awishkar, on September 11, 1999 at Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts. Awishkar’s seasoned cast (Ajit Bhure, Aditi Deshpade, Prema Sakhardande, Rekha Bade, Hemu Adhikari, Arun Kakde and Kenkre himself) drew packed houses right up to the last 87th show. In 2003, it received the Maharahstra Foundation award for playwriting. The play toured extensively in and out of Maharashtra, solidifying Champra’s identity as a playwright-ideologue, who later wrote cerebral plays, the most prominent being Davedaar (underlining limitations of left-leaning intellectuals). Dhol Tashe was published as a book in 2008; it was prescribed in the Mumbai University’s Master’s course for Marathi literature. It was performed by other groups, including Indian People’s Theatre Association and one in America. It was launched on Marathi commercial stage in January 2016 by a theatre company Bhadrakali Productions.
The 120-minute-long play, first staged in 1999 by Vijay Kenkre, cites the teachings of 17th century poet-saint Tukaram and other saints. The play starred Hemu Adhikari, Prema Sakhardande and Aditi Deshpande, among others
Kenkre, now trying hard to resuscitate the team, says: “It’s not always easy to get actors who espouse the central idea of the play. The Awishkar team used to take ownership of each word Champra wrote.”
For a play that speaks against matters of religious faith, a play that quotes the saints of Maharashtra to counter the popular view on Hindu rituals, annual festivals and the need for a public display of religious beliefs, Dhol Tashe has shown extraordinary staying power. Never have its shows been disrupted, not even in Pune, which is the microcosm of the play.
The play is set in Laxmi Road, Pune, which falls on the immersion route of a celebrated Ganpati idol (for whose auspicious darshan devotees come from far-off places), naturally bringing extraordinary importance to houses which are situated on the route. Dhol Tashe’s lead pair lives in one such home with a portico where relatives and neighbours flock and squabble to get a prime view of the procession which continues amid blaring Bollywood music. The mega-size Ganpati idol becomes the centre of attraction throughout the 11-day festival; people queue up for hours to seek the blessings of the Lord, politicians sponsor a variety of entertainment events, police protection is required to rein in people’s frenzy; the immersion ritual takes around 36 hours, creating traffic bottlenecks in the city. Dhol Tashe’s hero is opposed to the mass hysteria over the Ganesh festival. He labels it a cruel wastage of work hours. As his wife does not subscribe to his views, they arrive at a democratic arrangement — one year he has his way and in the following year, his wife keeps the doors open to relatives vying for the balcony view. The tacit arrangement is thrown out of the windows when an old aunt lands in their house and tries to bully, plead, trick and blackmail him into opening the balcony. In the 120-minute scintillating repartee between the two, Champra raises existential issues, particularly the transformation of religion into an entertainment device and devotees seeking momentary solace by tying themselves to an annual festival calendar.
Dhol Tashe reiterates Saint Tukaram’s teachings. “Tuka Mhane Amha Bramhand Pandhari” which translates to: For Tukaram, the entire universe is Lord Vithal’s abode; leaving no room for a gradation of auspiciousness; also “Dev Ahe Antaryami, Vyarth Hinde Tirthgrami” can be read as: When God resides in a serene human mind; why chase pilgrim spots or worship select idols.
Many in Maharashtra chant these dictums out of political correctness. It is the same political correctness due to which Dhol Tashe’s logic is accepted by the audience. It has been scientifically proven that noise pollution affects hearing, causes mental flux and prompts sleep disorders, due to which it becomes imperative on the part of the educated intelligentsia to safely agree with the moot point made by the play against religious fervour.
As Kenkre says: “No one supports noise pollution or religious hysteria on record, which is why they declare their admiration for Dhol Tashe. People at least care not to be on the wrong side of the debate. Of course, one knows that it takes time for a piece of theatre to dissuade people from flashy loud celebrations. Going by the number of shows, we have succeeded in making a small dent.”
Pune-based director Mohit Takalkar, who has launched Dhol Tashe’s Kannada version Beediyolagondu Maneya Maadi (Having Built a House on the Street) with the 20-odd repertory artistes of Rangashankra theatre in Bangalore on November 1, feels the play makes more than a dent in the contemporary disorderly times. “While rehearsing, I realised how much the sarvajanik Ganesh mandals and dandiya dances have mushroomed in Karnataka too. The taller the idol, the greater the status of the organisers, that’s the logic. That’s why Rangashankra plans a month-long tour of the play in adjoining villages where the issue in alive.” Takalkar says Dhol Tashe is relevant for many reasons – the most interesting being its ability to unite a Pune-based director with Bangalore-bound actors who communicated in English and Hindi over a Marathi script that was ultimately recreated in the dialect of Davanagere Kannada. That calls for a celebration… within decibel limit.
Sumedha Raikar-Mhatre is a culture columnist in search of the sub-text. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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