The absurd now becomes real
The opening play at the 10th Annual Vinod Doshi Memorial Theatre Festival saw a houseful show on Monday at the Yashwantrao Chavan Natyagruha. The audience comprised several renowned film and theatre personalities like Amol Palekar and Mohan Agashe, who were present to cheer for a very special performance. The eagerly awaited play was Satish Alekar’s 1974 Marathi satire Mahanirvan.
Revived after almost a decade, Alekar’s iconic black comedy came to life with the writer-director leading an entirely new cast and crew.The city’s very own Natak Company, that has steadily made a mark for itself as a young, emerging and promising theatre group, teamed up with the veteran playwright to bring his finest work back on stage. Through social media, 150 actors were auditioned before bringing together the stellar performance.
In an intimate tête-à-tête with the audience after the show, Alekar said, “When we first performed this play in 1974, the cast comprised actors in their 20s, including me. And its revival has brought me back with a cast of the same age group.”
An absurdist play revolving around the theme of death and Hindu rituals surrounding the last rites of a person, Mahanirvan has a dead body narrating the story of its own death. The last wish of the dead man is to be cremated at the cremation ground close to his house, which is now closed as per the order of the civic authorities. As a consequence, the dead body refuses to be cremated at the newly-opened crematorium and is kept at home for more than 10 days till the permissions are sought.
“The story is set during the Silver Jubilee celebrations of India’s Independence. And the gift to the public was a new cremation ground,” Alekar smiled, hinting at the irony of the situation. The theatre maker further elaborates that the magic of his play lies in its non-realism and the absurdity also stems from the fact that it serves as a shock absorber while dealing with a trauma like death.
“Death is the biggest trauma, which is capable of shaking the rationality of one’s mind. The play depicts this idea through performance. How does the family and the society handle this shock?” he explains, pointing out, “There is also a certain meaninglessness with respect to rituals that I felt while writing the play.” But when it comes to sensibilities and relevance of it all in today’s times, there is no doubt that Mahanirvan is timeless.
“In fact, with live webcasts of funerals, etc happening today, the absurdity in the play is real now,” Alekar joked. His reservations about reviving the play were different. “I was only worried about two things. One: Would these young actors find this play to be their own? Is it relevant enough for them to make it their own? Second: Since I direct all the plays written by me, will I be imposing myself on them as a director?” he revealed.
To which actor-director Alok Rajwade, who is also the co-founder of Natak Company, responded, “It’s true that we didn’t know how to approach the play in the beginning. But today, we feel this story couldn’t have been more relevant to our times. It was an inspiring experience for all of us.”
Mahanirvan’s comeback performance has been dedicated by Alekar to late Anand Modak, the original music composer of the play. And after watching the show at the festival, we can safely say that the music of this play is its backbone. The play’s narrative largely depends on mourning kirtans, sung fabulously by the actors. The talented Nachiket Devasthali especially, left the audience spellbound with his singing and his overall act of the dead man Bhau.
“In theatrical terms, Mahanirvan is among the most important Indian plays for me,” Mohan Agashe said as an endnote to the interaction.