The unknown force

UNSWERVING Mahadevbhai is a perfect blend of thought and action

UNSWERVING Mahadevbhai is a perfect blend of thought and action  

The play Mahadevbhai speaks of Gandhiji’s meticulous chronicler

To put it simply: the play “Mahadevbhai” is the juxtaposition of a historical process with the life of Mahadev Desai, with the present closing in alongside. The perceptive play, written and directed by Ramu Ramanathan, staged recently in Bangalore, can be seen as the collision of two time frames, collapse of values, amnesia, as also an attempt at re-invoking Gandhi. Amnesia, of course, for all the quiet heroes who with their amazing conviction, energised most mass struggles.

Mention Mahadev Desai and not too many will recognise the man. The way we know Gandhi today, complete with details of his life, we owe it to Mahadev Desai. He chronicled the day-to-day life of the Mahatma in the 25-years of his association with him. These diaries finally ran into 27 volumes. In Jaimini Pathak’s brilliant two-hour performance, “Mahadevbhai” turned out to be the story of Gandhi, diligently chronicled by Mahadevbhai, who took it upon himself as his life’s mission.

The seemingly simple play with its brilliant narrative style opens with a touch of irony: an unassuming actor trying to introduce himself to a film producer. In the same breath it is also a preface to the modest Mahadev Desai, who sadly needs to be introduced. The play even as it narrates historical incidents and ideologies brings in many a light moment (often tongue-in-cheek). It ridicules the Anglophile teacher, MBAs of the globalised world who have complete disregard for history, but quickly brings in Dadaji as reassurance. He is the link between Mahadevbhai-Gandhi and now.

Gandhi hadn’t yet become Mahatma when Mahadevbhai made an entry into his world. The attraction to Gandhi was clear and the movement towards him gradual, but when he did become a part of the leader’s world, his commitment was total. He was not Mahatma’s secretary alone but friend, companion, cook, disciple and fellow traveller. On seeing the play, one can’t help being reminded of Verrier Elwin’s essay on Mahadev Desai. “Mahadev’s task was to make Gandhi real to millions. He made him perhaps the best- known man in the world, certainly the best loved. The punctual, vivid, intimate stories that appeared in Young India and Harijan displayed to readers a personality so lovable that love was inevitably aroused in response. It was Mahadev’s special privilege to be able to show the world the Mahatma off the stage and below the platform.” The play carries in it the spirit of Elwin’s essay; of a man who was a thinking individual (in fact, there are instances in the play when he doesn’t hesitate to argue with Gandhi) but his devotion to the Mahatma and hence to the freedom struggle was staunch. Mahadevbhai loved his people as much as he loved Gandhi.

The props were minimal: they evoked the simplicity of Gandhi’s life. The music was memorable; Kishori Amonkar’s “Mharo Pranaam” to Kumar Gandharva’s Nirguni bhajans to the classic M.S. Subbulakshmi and D.V. Paluskar, it had it all. The musical diversity is unifying in the context of the freedom struggle itself. However, Paluskar in this rendition steers clear of the line “Ishwar Allah Tero Naam” and one wonders how the team missed it? Must one refrain from a quick attribution of Paluskar’s ideological proclivity to it?

Though the play moves between time frames, it never works against the narrative flow. Jaimini Pathak, outstanding performer that he is, moves from one role to the other, from one language( English, Hindi, Gujarati) to the other, with brilliant ease. Not even for a moment in this two-hour solo performance, does his energy level sink. If only the running time was shorter, it would have been a richer theatrical experience. Rarely does one watch a play that is such a perfect blend of thought and action.


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