Last August, over 250 activists from across Maharashtra came together to stage 20 Marathi short plays on the first death anniversary of Narendra Achyut Dabholkar, August 20. Among the artistes who performed plays under Ringan Natya by Maharashtra ANIS Lok-Rangamanch was a group of activists from Islampur, who showcased a play titled ‘Socrates to Dabholkar via Tukaram’. Unhappy with the progress in the investigation of the murder case of Dabholkar, the group decided to take the 30-minute play to Delhi as a medium to express their protest.
From February 16 to 18, the group staged 12 shows of the play at different venues in the Capital. Some of the venues where the group performed were Jawaharlal Nehru University, National Book Fair, Tadpole Repertory Basement, Jamia Millia Islamia, St Mary’s School and Kirorimal College at Delhi University. After the attack on senior leader Govind Pansare on February 16, the group tweaked the script of the play a bit to condemn the attack.
“We have taken the plays to various parts of the states but wanted our voice to reach Delhi too. Hence, we decided to stage it there,” said Yogesh Kudale, co-director of the play. Ever since the play was showcased first last year, it has travelled to various parts of Maharashtra, including places like Satara, Kolhapur, Aurangabad, Solapur, Mumbai and Beed, and has had over 40 shows.
‘Socrates to Dabholkar via Tukaram’ registers an ideology of free thought based on scientific attitude and rationalism. It’s an attempt to cover core events in the lives of Socrates, Saint Tukaram and Narendra Dabholkar. “We are a group of professionals from different backgrounds but we all believe in the ideologies of Dabholkarji. The play portrays the stories of the rationalists in short. While Socrates was asked to drink poison, Saint Tukaram and Dabholkar were murdered. Through the play, we want to project how the rationalists may die but their ideologies don’t come to an end. Though these reformers were killed physically, they have become immortal through their thoughts,” added Kudale.
While the play has been directed by Vijay Powar, it has been written by Raja Shirguppe, who was assisted by Sanjay Bansode and Eknath Patil. The group of activists had brushed their theatrical skills when they attended a theatre workshop conducted by city-based theatre artiste Atul Pethe in Islampur.
Sharing details about the play, Kudale said the first scene showed Socrates in the court of Athens. He is charged by the court for destabilising government by promoting a culture of inquiry. The court gives him a choice between either accepting his mistakes and apologising to the citizens of Athens or face death penalty. Socrates decides not to compromise on his freedom of speech and bravely faces death by consuming a poisonous mixture.
The second scene, he said, was of Saint Tukaram, a famous Marathi saint of the 16th century, who wrote 4,500 abhangas. This scene presents an interaction between Tukaram and Dharampeetha (court of religion). “Tukaram’s insistence on truth is interpreted as a revolt against the traditional-organised religion. The traditional, orthodox leaders of religion ordered him to drown his abhangas in river,” said Kudale.
The third scene of the play starts with the social reform work done by Dabholkar and ends with his brutal assassination by unknown gunmen. “We also show the last interview of Dabholkar on a TV news channel in which he is trying to enumerate the importance of the Act to eradicate blind faith from society,” said the co-director, adding that when Pansare was attacked, they included a few lines about his works and how an attempt had been made to end the life of another rationalist. “Besides, at the end of the play, we interacted with the audience and addressed their queries related to our work and ideologies,” he added.