Our New Year kicked off with yet another lesson in history and identity politics. The Koregaon-Bhima riots told us that a 200-year-old battle can still create rifts in society. It’s certainly not a new issue for a caste-ridden society like ours. But it’s worrisome how these battles are picked, and the stories are given a spin. Especially, as history is now another ‘holy cow’ that cannot be questioned. This is incidentally also a dialogue from the Marathi play Jugaad, written and directed by Nitin Agnihotri.
Advocate Hanmantrao (brilliantly played by Chinmay Mandlekar) belonging to the Nalmachi tribe from a fictitious hamlet, seeks out history professor Vilasrao (Hrishikesh Joshi, superb), luring him with an offer to write a short story set in the hamlet and then willy-nilly persuading him to pen a piece documenting their lives.
Eventually, Hanmantrao compels the professor to cook up a biography of their leader — Avtya Zombya Kakajirao. The leader is shown to be a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi. Those born in the ‘right’ and ‘powerful’ caste or class might not understand the fuss of having a community leader, or a recognised community. But for those who are social pariah, an identity or a sense of pride in their community helps them achieve the basics — a ration card, establishing a school in their leader’s name, getting their kid enrolled in it and even some monetary benefits. Then comes the bigger dream of achieving political power, erecting a statue of their leader at a busy crossroad, and installing similar statues in the state assembly house and then the Parliament house. This is what advocate Hanmantrao hopes to achieve through the writing and publication of a book on Avtya Zombya Kakajirao. But Vilasrao isn’t that malleable or gullible either. The arguments that he makes ‘historical records need to be examined, verified, authenticated etc’ don’t hold any significance for Hanmantrao. So the audience is treated to the same arguments between the two, again and again, leading to the climax, which feels stretched.
Apart from this niggling factor, the play has been mounted very well. Based on Nagnath Kotappale’s short story, the play is layered with references to the naxalite problem, and how the lives of the tribals are mired in corruption, ignorance and superstition. A special mention must be made of Shubhangi Bhujbal, who epitomises all that is wrong with the tribals.
ST Reader Service
Jugaad, a Maharashtra Cultural Centre’s theatre production, will be staged on April 25 and 28 at 7 pm, Jyotsna Bhole Sabhagruha, Tilak Road. Tickets will be available at the venue, one hour prior to the show