Not So Serious

Tom Alter performs Gandhi as “a man with an impish sense of humour” in the play, Mohan Se Mahatma.

Written by Dipanita Nath | Published:July 15, 2017 12:15 am
Tom Alter new play, Tom Alter Theatre, Mohan se Mahatma, Theatre, Pierrot’s Troupe Plays, Mahatma Gandhi, Champaran, Indian Express News Alter, with an American-European ancestry, has been a veteran of firangi roles in Hindi cinema. The stage has stretched him wider. He has given textured performances as Maulana Azad in an eponymous play, essayed the poet of Persian, Munshi Har Gopal “Taftah”, in Ghalib Ke Khat, and the late psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion in The Becoming Room, among others. (Express Photo by Arul Horizon)

Champaran, a district in Bihar, is a pilgrimage destination only for researchers of India’s freedom struggle and die-hard Gandhians. A new play, Mohan Se Mahatma, gives an account of how Champaran transformed “Mr Gandhi from South Africa” and became the site for his first Satyagraha in 1917. The Pierrot’s Troupe production opened in Champaran on April 10, exactly 100 years after Gandhi arrived there. The first show in Delhi was held last week.

Tom Alter plays Gandhi, sitting on the floor and dressed in trademark white. The bulk of his actions is writing and thinking — yet Alter channels the leader powerfully through the hour-long production. The tilt of his head, the pursing of lips and the amused smile with which he observes his memories unfold on stage recalls the persona of Gandhi. “Gandhi was a dubla-patla Gujarati. My idea was not to mimic but to honour him. I wanted to show what he did in Champaran. He had no clue what was going on but he went and found out. He didn’t make some big speech and say, ‘Hum yeh karenge’. He came and solved the problem at the grassroots level,” says Alter

Alter, with an American-European ancestry, has been a veteran of firangi roles in Hindi cinema. The stage has stretched him wider. He has given textured performances as Maulana Azad in an eponymous play, essayed the poet of Persian, Munshi Har Gopal “Taftah”, in Ghalib Ke Khat, and the late psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion in The Becoming Room, among others.

Tom Alter new play, Tom Alter Theatre, Mohan se Mahatma, Theatre, Pierrot’s Troupe Plays, Mahatma Gandhi, Champaran, Indian Express News Tom Alter; as Gandhi in the play, Mohan Se Mahatma.

Repeatedly, he has returned to Gandhi. He has performed from his speeches, and played him in a play, Yadi, based on the premise that Gandhi is alive.“I was born in 1950, two years after Gandhi died. When we were growing up, he was all over the place. We saw him in all newspapers and news clips. I have a certain image of Gandhi in my mind The best thing about Mohan Se Mahatma is that it shows Gandhi’s fun side,” he says. His Gandhi teases and confesses, “I don’t remember Maulana’s sher. Urdu is very difficult for us Gujaratis.” “He had an impish sense of humour till the day he died,” says Alter.

M Sayeed Alam, who has scripted and directed the play, is the younger Gandhi. Comedy is his forte, seen in plays such as Ghalib in New Delhi and Chacha Chakkan Ke Karnamay. He, too, avoids a realistic depiction of Gandhi and presents an idea of him as a person out of his depth in a country he seeks to save but does not know. When struggling indigo farmers approach him, Gandhi confesses, “I do not have any idea about Champaran. Mujhe toh yeh bhi nahin malum ki Champaran Bharat ke nakshe mein kahan hai (I don’t even know where Champaran is situated on the map of India).” Alam delivers the line with a mix of wit and humility.

The play falters when it attempts a realistic portrayal of British officers, from the caterpillar sideburns to the dialogues in accented English. It is only the tight script, dotted with one-liners, which have come from My Experiments with Truth, that sustains the interest. “Main international se national hero banta ja raha hoon (I am becoming a national hero from an international one),” writes Gandhi in his autobiography. At another place, he says, “Main baniya hoon aur kuchh log chatur baniya bhi kehte hain. (I am a baniya and, some say, a shrewd baniya).”

Such as self-deprecating portrayal of Gandhi is rarely seen in the arts.“For me, the play helped to bring Gandhi out of the boxes we have put him in. He was much more than his spectacles and dhoti. Of course, Gandhi made mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, Virat Kohli makes mistakes,” says Alter, a cricket addict who was a sports journalist for 25 years. He adds, “There is a strong attempt to rewrite history but a history that has never been written but actually happened, how can you rewrite that?”

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  1. S
    Shamala puneet
    Jul 23, 2017 at 8:54 pm
    When i enter a comment you dont retain it
    Reply
  2. S
    Shamala puneet
    Jul 23, 2017 at 8:49 pm
    Hey You guys didnt like my earlier comment? No freedom of expression is it? Or you did not want to hear the hearts cry of an old real close one of tom alter? No probs Doctor alam sayed is indeed one helluva super playwright in this super country of ours! Seen all his plays with tom alter coupla times over except this last one -- mohan to mahatma-- Indeed your write up on him and his play with tom was justice to theatre! Besides this your article speaks of "yadi " which is the only play i missed of tom since its premiere on april 8 2012 in hyd Still maintain You must cover toms many other stupendous layers -- instead of repeating what is always written of!!! I always read all your articles but sad today you pulled my comment off for being open and straightforward Shamala puneet
    Reply
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    Shamala puneet
    Jul 23, 2017 at 7:15 pm
    Hi editorial, Honestly there has to be more interesting matter about tom alter that readers would like-- Becos his history is now done to death --like an obsolete syllabus for his fans and new audiences, Lets get to know something other than his sachin interview, his past historical performances.And his mussorie lineage! Since he dons many hats and puts a cap on many too-- no malice-- in a nice way--- you will find rather amazing and super stuff about him and his new dance drama plays -that is his own invention in indian dramaworks... His search for his own level of perfection and his sacrifice of his entire self for his dedication to his own passion .. His encouragement and conversion of absolute simple art and average artistes to becoming most written about and visually seen personalities in the performing sector! Viva tom! Please write more on tom alter and divya aroras performance " dr. Khanna" which is A mammoth incredible display of the rise of the human spirit! Shamala puneet
    Reply