Like a Dictator in the Sky

Like a Dictator in the Sky

A tyrant and a shaman trigger reflexes of ruthless ambition and stoic humanism in a play by Pramila Le Hunte,a politician-turned-theatre director.

Every so often,the real world creates a drama that can defy every playwright’s wildest imagination. And a tyrant is almost always a part of such events. The Arab Spring was one such instance,in which no less than three mighty dictators were brought down by the wrath of the masses they had successfully suppressed for years. As this clash of good and evil played out on the television sets,a former British Conservative Party politician-turned-theatre director,now based in Delhi,began thinking of a play on power and its price. Pramila Le Hunte’s new production,The Wolf and the North Wind: A Contest in the Sky,about “the globalisation of dictators” will be staged at India Habitat Centre and Epicentre before travelling to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.

“Dictators seem to be everywhere. The original script of this play,Gubbarey ki Udaan,was written by Danish Iqbal with Pervez Musharraf in mind. When I began working on the script,Musharraf was in exile and rarely in the news. The Arab Spring,on the other hand,had thrown up a range of dictators. I wanted the main protagonist to represent a generic dictator,such as Stalin,Idi Amin,Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi,” says Le Hunte,taking a break from rehearsals at her farmhouse. “When I began rehearsal,Musharraf was back in Pakistan and had been arrested,” she says.

Le Hunte was active in politics in the UK in the 1980s and,at Margaret Thatcher’s behest,became the first Asian woman to contest elections there. She has been living in Delhi since 2001 and her theatre output includes To Sahir With Love,an ode to Sahir Ludhianvi,Chaplin,Gandhi and Salt,about Charlie Chaplin’s fictitious meeting with the Mahatma during the Dandi March,and Nehru,India’s first prime minister.

To Iqbal’s realistic script,Le Hunte has added metaphors and symbols such as labelling the dictator as the “wolf” in the title. The story is about two young boys,who played together as children but have since gone their separate ways. “One has taken the path of blood and become a dictator,the other has taken the path of spirituality and become a shaman or doctor,” says Le Hunte. One day,they get together and take a ride on a hot air balloon. While the dictator wants to go higher than anybody else in pursuit of glory and grandeur,the shaman wants to save the world and engages his old friend in a conversation about humanity and spirituality. Their convictions and conflicts as the balloon rises and falls with the wind forms the bulk of the play.


The two protagonists have no names apart from Dictator (played by Oroon Das) and Shaman (Dilip Shankar). Das says he isn’t emulating any dictator in history in his portrayal,and is instead focusing on the darkness in the human heart. “We all want to be in control of situations and people,” he says. The third minor character of a Martial (Rajesh Gandhi) adds to the comic element,balancing out the dictator’s cruelty and the shaman’s wisdom.

Le Hunte’s fondness for music is reflected in her theatre — To Sahir With Love was replete with Ludhianvi’s songs — and she uses children’s ditties such as Will you/Won’t you/Won’t you/Join the dance from Alice in Wonderland and A Hunting we will go to give an edge to the action.

While the set comprises an elaborate hot air balloon,the dialogues are descriptive enough to paint a picture of the land and events around. The shaman reminds his friend of a childhood incident when he had dragged a drowning girl out of a river: “The current was dragging you away,yet you carried on. I was proud to have you as a friend. Once you were a hero.”

The play will be staged at India Habitat Centre (24682001) on May 24 and 25,and Epicentre (0124-2715000) on May 31 and June 1.