Friday Review

He took on hypocrisy


Mudrarakshas.   | Photo Credit: 17dfr tribute1


With the passing away of Mudrarakshas, we have lost a creative soul who relentlessly showed mirror to the society.

After the performance, the artistes came downstage and received tumultuous applause from an electrified audience. One among them, a little small in height, but remarkable for his vitality, powerful and mellifluous voice came a few steps forward and was given a standing ovation. This was the man who was the creative force behind the production of “Alaa Afsar” staged more than four decades ago at Shri Ram Centre. This man with passionate commitment to his art was Mudrarakshas, who passed away on June 13 in Lucknow.

Mudrarakshas was born in a village called Behata near Lucknow and rose to become one of stalwarts of Hindi literature radiating in diversified creative fields –– playwriting, direction, acting, novels, literary criticism, short story writing and children’s literature leaving an indelible impact of his creative genius. Above all he is one of the few artists known for his social commitment who constantly followed his civic responsibility as an artist. His works reflect his angst against prevailing injustice in a society based on exploitation of economically and socially oppressed. Among his theatre exploits is “Alaa Afsar”, an adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s “The Government Inspector”. Evoking critical appreciation from the critics and the audience, Mudrarakshas’ adaptation is a re-creation of the 19th Century Russian classic. “Alaa Afsar” was a musical with its score based on Nautanki. But the element of satire of the original becomes all the more merciless. He changed the historic context, the milieu while retaining the backdrop of corrupt state apparatus. A Marxist-Leninist, he has enriched the genre of theatre of the absurd pioneered by Bhuwaneshwar Prasad. “Tilchatta” belongs to this genre which was directed by Rajan Sabhrawal for National School of Drama Repertory in 1974 featuring Naseeruddin Shah, Uttara Baokar, and Pankaj Kapur. His first play was “Marjeeva” which the playwright in collaboration with Kapil Kumar Agnihotri presented in Delhi in 1966. Latter, it was directed by Shrilata Swaminathan for NSD in 1972, casting Surekha Sikri, Naseeruddin Shah, Bansi Kaul and Jaydev Hattangadi.

Some critics are of the opinion that Mudrarakshas’ political ideology is not reflected in most of his plays and that they deal with sexual fantasy while a few feel that these deal with the grotesque and perverse. But his plays like “Yours Faithfully” and “Daku” provide deep insights into the inhuman face of a socio-political system ruled by landowning and propertied classes. His creative output is tremendous –– 10 plays, 12 novels, five collections of short stories, three books of satire, three on history and five on literary criticism.

He joined as Director (Script) in All India Radio and was in charge of drama production and training. He was not an armchair Marxist and was actively involved in trade union movement. During the National Emergency he left his job. His real name was Subhash Chandra. He adopted the name Mudrarakshas from the leading character of Vishakhadatta’s Sanskrit classic .Eminent Hindi playwright Rameshwar Prem observes, “Deeply steeped in the Nautanki folk theatre, he is the pioneer of musical theatre in Hindi. He evolved a new theatre language in Hindi which has vitality, crispness and dramatic flow. There are very few people who wrote with equal authority in almost all literary genres. Mudrarakshas is one such creative person. At the same time he was a serious political thinker.”

Reminiscing warmly, renowned playwright Nand Kishore Acharya, comments, ‘I found in him to be a writer committed to social cause with strong leftist views. I was touched the way he used to encourage young writers. I had my difference of opinion with him but he had the patience to hear views that were contrary to his ideology. He later changed his views, especially on the works of Ageya and became a writer open to all views.” Analysing the creative process of Mudrarakshas, Prof. Satendra Taneja observes, “The flowering of multi-faceted genius of Mudrarakshas is the outcome of the confrontation of different ideas prevailing in the field of culture which became more powerful in his introduction to his plays and literary criticism rather in his experiments with playwriting.”

His other well known plays include “Tendua”, “Santola” and “Guphayen”. Recalling fondly, his close association with Mudrarakshas, noted director Satish Anand says, “It was indeed a rewarding experience to direct his plays, especially ‘Daku’. It is a play about a society terrorised by dacoits which actually produces anti-social elements, gives them shelter and then pretends to combat the menace. It featured in the first chapter of Bharat Rang Mahotsav and Bhartendu Natya Samaroh of Sahitya Kala Parisad as one of the best productions of the year.”

Bhanu Bharti, well-known theatre personality has the last word.: “Mudrarakshas was essentially unconventional and bold in his selection of themes at a time when Hindi writing was conservative and inhibiting. He experimented with themes which were not attempted by his contemporaries.”

Bhanu Bharti on his Mudra Bhai

“His first play – Marjeeva – to which I think I was the first reader, was a bold sexual fantasy. It was first staged by Shrilata Swaminathan, a well-known social and political activist, for NSD which ran initially for two or three shows because critics were unanimous in objecting the bold experiment. After that Mudra Bhai, as I called him, wrote one more play in this genre. Suddenly in the wake of the National Emergency he left Delhi and gave up his job with the All India Radio. He shifted to Lucknow and adapted Gogol’s ‘The Government Inspector’ in Nautanki style. It was an innovative experiment in Hindi theatre and he was extremely successful in rendering a realistic play into a traditional form like Nautanki in all its splendour and musical extravaganza. Yet the content of the play came across quite effectively and it was ‘Alaa Afsar’ in which I encountered Mudra Bhai as an actor of great virtuosity as well.”

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 12:51:56 PM |

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