At a time when we’re starstruck by the hero that is Amarendra and Mahendra Baahubali, or the women that are Sivagami, Devasena and Avanthika, watching Badal Sircar’s famous play Pagla Ghoda can send shivers down your spine. Though many may raise a puzzled eyebrow at the connection, those who have seen (and possibly studied) both would identify a disturbing common thread between Sircar’s 1960s to what we see in magnum opus movies such as Baahubali today – one of subtle patriarchy, the kind that sometimes one doesn’t even realise exists.
Sircar’s original play is set in the 1960s, which is loyally adapted for the Internet audience by Bikash Mishra, mostly known for his indie film, Chauranga. The film is about four men sitting in a crematorium, drinking, burning a woman on the pyre and conversing about life, love and what is lost. As simple as it may sound, the conversations are poignant.
All four men have lost the love of their lives and are in immense remorse, especially thinking about the moments shared with the lost lover. But as the conversation between them develops, you start feeling disgust, hate or even pity for them.
For instance, take the story of Shashi. He claims he loved Malti.
Scene: In a dingy place, amidst four acquaintances he is dwelling in a memory of her, who he and his friend Pradeep both loved.
Malti to Shashi: Why did you profess your love to me?
Malti: You will leave me for Pradeep? He means the world to you?
Malti: Are you doing this because you won’t be able to show your face to Pradeep?
Shashi: I will not be able to show my face to myself! I will dwell in this weakness and I won’t be able to face anyone. In such a situation neither you will be happy nor me!
Malti loses Shashi and marries Pradeep. She later commits suicide, because he turns out to be a wife beater and an alcoholic, who could never establish a connection with her. Shashi, in the present, still blames himself for leaving her.
The script is simple, the writer tells you that patriarchy is what we all are afraid of, it can manifest itself in you and haunt you for years. An extreme case like Pradeep – a wife beater. But Shashi, who is righteous is also overpowering the one he loves. He believes that brotherhood is more important than commitment and a woman he loves? And most importantly, what has Shashi’s life become after some years, drowning in guilt.
Mishra says, “Is hate the only feeling for this man? Do you feel pity for him?” According to him, pity is difficult because we are used to seeing heroic men in movies. The most popular movie cannot have losers and that too four of them, like in Pagla Ghoda. In Sircar’s play, men are also victims of patriarchy. At one level it is a tragedy, a grand romantic tragedy about four very ordinary men who fall in love with four assertive women. But the characters are more grey and hence more likely to be encountered on daily basis, than finding heroes.
“At a time when the leader of the country is happy with reference to the size of his chest (referring to PM Narendra Modi’s ‘chhappan inch ka seena’) and Baahubali is loved for his masculinity, it is definitely not time to say that patriarchy is not a problem,” says Mishra, indicating that women today – much like the four characters in Sircar’s play – may be assertive with a mind of their own, but in the end, they’re subtly subjugated by men they care or those who are around them, mainly because we’re conditioned to have the man lead.
Baahubali, a fantasy character is so loved that the SS Rajamouli’s film is breaking every record, and Amarendra Baahubali becomes the ‘ideal man’ even for the 21st century woman. There is no denying the strong female characters in Baahubali 1 and 2, but then both Avantika and Devasena are eventually reduced to characters who need saving or controlling, be it by Amarendra and Mahendra Baahubali, much like how the women in Sircar’s play are manipulated by the men in their lives, however unconsciously and subtly so. It’s perfectly acceptable for the man to use his fighting skills to strip off the woman’s clothes to woo her in Baahubali 1, and though 2 has Devasena as a warrior, she too must wait and be saved by the son.
The depiction of patriarchy in Pagla Ghoda is disturbing because it’s relatable. Every character has a question in every dialogue. The mental and physical trauma of the manifestation of the ghost of patriarchy grasps you. You laugh at the characters’ audacity but you cannot refute them.
Pagla Ghoda is part of a new series of cine-plays streaming on Hotstar, and will be screen on May 30.