Yugpurush — Mahatma Na Mahatma , winner of the Dada Saheb Phalke Best Play award, seeks to capture the relationship between two Mahatmas — Gandhiji and his friend and spiritual mentor, Kavi Rajchandraji. Gandhiji was certainly a Yugpurush — a man who defined his epoch. The play traces some of his ideas to the life and teachings of Rajchandraji, a Jain businessman, with extraordinary gifts and deep spiritual sensitivity, who came into Gandhiji’s life on his return from England.
The play was presented in Tamil as Mahatmavin Mahatma by Bombay Gnanam at Narada Gana Sabha to a warmly receptive audience. Although Gandhiji has devoted a chapter of his autobiography to this man and the impact his living and teachings had upon him, the presence of such a figure in Gandhiji’s life, strangely, has remained little known outside scholarly circles. The why should be interesting to explore. The extent to which Gandhiji’s ideas, such as the idea of using ahimsa itself as a weapon, can be traced back to the teachings of Rajchandraji is a matter for serious research. The play itself makes the simplistic claim that Rajchandraji sowed the seed of the idea in Gandhiji’s mind, who then applied it in the context of the struggle against British imperialism.
The play depicted skilfully the conduct of Rajchandraji’s and his conviction that Dharma has to pervade all activities, not just rituals and rites, his moral earnestness and how it made a deep impact on Gandhiji, who turned to him in moments of spiritual crisis. Gandhiji did this through many letters from South Africa, to which Rajchandraji responded patiently. He never tried to win over Gandhi to his faith; even when Gandhi agonised about Hinduism — its caste system, empty ritualism, untouchability, etc., — Rajchandraji urged him to look at the scriptures more closely and did not revile the religion which too, after all, is a form of violence.
The performance of the play was impressive with tasteful and impactful props, lighting and acting. The first appearance of Gandhiji with Manu and Abha was spot on. Bombay Gnanam warned that it is not really a play: for instance, recorded dialogue was played back, rendering that critical aspect of theatre — dialogue delivery — void. The play, following an age-old technique, unfolds as a story within a story — as the reminiscence of Gandhiji on his last day at Birla House when he brushes aside suggestions that he skip the prayers for fear of an attack. He quotes Rajchandraji, prompting Manu and Abha to ask for more about him.
The presence of Gandhi throughout on stage watching the proceedings lent an interesting texture to the play. A fine directorial touch here (original direction by Rajesh Joshi). Rajchandraji came across convincingly with a withdrawn intensity. There was poignance, a bit of humour and intensity.
Playwright, Uttam Gada, has woven in metaphysical, spiritual discussions between characters. And here lies a notable achievement — for, it is not easy to depict abstract metaphysical ideas in a play while retaining its interest.
A play is not a discourse. As Plato realised, it is the bad man who is interesting for the playwright and portraying a spiritual master in a play is particularly challenging. Shanta rasa, according to some in the Sanskrit tradition, cannot really be depicted. But this play does manage to pull it off.