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Updated: May 16, 2013 19:40 IST

Mean motives

Diwan Singh Bajeli
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On oppression: A scene from 'Manodasha'.
On oppression: A scene from 'Manodasha'.

“Manodasha” puts forward the view that the moment society was divided into the ruler and the ruled, exploitation took permanent root

The organisation Amazing Thoughts, formed about a decade ago, presented “Manodasha” at LTG auditorium this past week. The production makes a laborious and incoherent attempt at interpreting history as a ceaseless process of exploitation of the masses. It projects a bleak future for humanity. The inordinate length of the play, the high sounding dialogue and disjointed structure of the narrative further makes viewing tedious.

Written and directed by Abhineshwar Dayal Saxena, the events in the play are projected from history as living entities. We have another character which represents the imaginative power of mankind and then there are various characters which represent the hated rulers who oppress the people at the different point of history. In fact, the playwright uses these characters to invest his production with allegorical meaning. The opening sequences give the basic idea of the evolution of human society, emphasising that the primitive society was an ideal one in which there was no ruler and no ruled. There was no exploitation and everyone was equal. But the moment some greedy, cunning and unscrupulous elements started controlling public property, the harmony of the society started to break up and the voices of discontent began to be raised. Those who control the productive forces silence voices of protest with a brute force.

Gradually, however, the narrative becomes illogical. The writer-director takes only three characters from history to illustrate his point — Ashoka, Tughlaq and British Imperialism. He views Ashoka’s transformation from a bloodthirsty expansionist to a pacifist dedicated to spreading Buddha’s message of world peace as a mask to hide his weakness caused by old age. The transformation also indicates an expression of the guilt Ashoka’s guilt caused by the mass killings of the people of Kalinga. Two acts are devoted to Ashoka’s interactions with monks and his new and young queen Satisya Rakshita. Ashoka’s wife enters his chamber in an angry and defiant mood to expose Ashoka’s mission to spread Budhha’s teaching of non-violence. The young queen reveals her torturous journey from a member of the Sangh where she was sexually exploited to her elevated status of a queen. She also reveals her failed attempt to seduce her stepson Kunal, a great warrior and an able administrator. Through her heated polemics she forces an old and beleaguered emperor to hand over the reins of the empire to her. During these scenes one remembers Rameshwar Prem’s play “Antaranga”, in which a similar situation is presented. In his latest play which is yet to be staged, D.P. Sinha presents a bitter critique of Ashoka.

The playwright identifies another oppressor in Tughlaq. Hence the enactment of the two scenes showing some facets of the life of the Sultan. These scenes are a rehash of Girish Karnad play “Tughlaq”. Some of the dialogues appear to be quotes from the original play.

One more villain of humanity is British Imperialism. Bhagat Singh is shown in a torture chamber undergoing the worst kind of suffering yet dreaming of a free socialist India.

However, in independent India the people continue to suffer privations but are unable to resist the oppression let loose by the new rulers. The oppressed find themselves weak and helpless and are victims of circumstances. A broken Bharat Mata and the demoralised Itihas remain silent spectators in the face of ravages wrought by greedy, brute rulers. The play ends on an abrupt note.

Despite thematic cynicism, crude depiction of man’s animal instinct and sketchy character of the narrative structure, the scenes are well designed and the production is adequately rehearsed. Some of the performers in the large cast act admirably. Special mention may be made of Shishir Chauhan as Itihas, Nisha as Kalpana, symbolising the creative faculty of man, Manish Raj as Ashoka and Mohini Sangar as the defiant and revengeful young queen of Ashoka.

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