“Ambedkar aur Gandhi” is one of Asmita’s classics

Founded in 1993, Asmita today is one of the leading Hindi theatre groups in the country. In the last 15 years or so, some of the best Hindi plays have been the ones adapted from other Indian languages or English. These include G.P. Deshpande’s “Antim Divas,” Girish Karnad’s “Tuglak” and “Rakt Kalyan” Albert Camus’ “Caligula,” Mahesh Dattani’s “Final Solutions,” Eugene O’Neill’s “Desire Under the Elms”, Dario Fo’s “An Accidental Death of Anarchist”, Bertolt Brecht’s “Good Woman of Setzuan ” and “The Caucasian Chalk Circle,” Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”, Vijay Tendulkar’s “Ghasiram Kautwal” and some other plays.

Asmita has 52 productions to its credit and has been performing for about 60 nights a year on an average. All these presentations have been directed by its resident director Arvind Gaur.

Asmita’s latest presentation, young playwright Rajesh Kumar’s “Ambedkar aur Gandhi” was marked for healthy audience response both for its content and the director Gaur’s overall production design. Never before have I seen such an intelligent post-presentation discussion between the audience and the director that went on for nearly half an hour and the director had to close it for lack of time. It just goes to show if the theme is relevant and the presentation professionally good, the audience is waiting for it. The play allowed them to understand better the history of our freedom movement, particularly the differences between the upper and lower classes.

The play brings to us the long drawn debate between Gandhiji and Ambedkar. Apart from concentrating on the correspondence between Gandhiji and Ambedkar that led to the Poona pact, the playwright underlines the benefits that Ambedkar’s proposals will bring to the lower castes and Gandhiji’s concerns regarding the removal of division between the upper and lower cast Hindus. The cast does full justice to the playwright and were true to what the directorwas trying to get out of them. Bajrang Bali Singh playing Ambedkar was excellent, particularly in his last speech after Gandhiji’s death when he says, “I had differences with Gandhiji on socio–political issues but were continuing to debate them. He left the debate for ever and it is very sad for me.”

In total contrast to Singh’s Ambedkar comes Viren Basoya’s Gandhi, calm and collected throughout and yet emotional when he says he wants to be reborn as a Harijan. In response, the audience breaks out in a non-stop applause.

Apart from the two lead players, others who stand out are Shilpi Marwah as Rama Bai, Pankaj Raj Yadav as Devdas Gandhi, Malay Garg as Kedarkar, Raj Sharma as Sadanand and Rahul Datta as Sardar Patel. To lend colour to the presentation, there was, as usual, excellent music by Sangeeta Gaur and some popular songs that brought back old memories. “Ambedkar aur Gandhi”, to my mind is one of Asmita’s classics and Gaur’s best-directed presentations that must be taken around the Hindi speaking States. I hope the cultural authorities are listening.