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Friday, December 06, 2019

Being Karl Marx

A documentary theatre piece, Mrs and Marx, attempts to humanise the German philosopher through the prism of his love life

Written by Dipti Nagpaul | Published: May 9, 2019 12:06:00 am
“I believe it is not possible to understand Marx’s writings unless we also understand the context that drove him, and that can happen if we view him as the person he was,” says
Satchit Puranik.

In 2013, Satchit Puranik featured in a play titled Karl Marx in Kalbadevi. The Gujarati piece, directed by Manoj Shah, placed the German philosopher in the midst of the famous, crowded bazaar in old Mumbai, where he’d arrived to clear his name. Although the play was received with mixed reviews, it remained popular with the discerning Gujarati audience. It has also continued to be staged over the years.

But Puranik’s affair with the German philosopher didn’t end with that one production. Having put extensive research into playing the titular role, the 37-year-old felt that he had a lot more to say about Marx. So when Michaela Talwar, the co-founder of Harkat Studios, saw the play, the two started to ideate a production that could explore the human side of Marx. “We usually see Marx, a rather hated man, through the prism of dialectics and politics. What happened to his idea of communism? But we rarely realise that his experiences shaped his writing — his early years, the poverty he saw around him and so on. I believe it is not possible to understand Marx’s writings unless we also understand the context that drove him, and that can happen if we view him as the person he was, perhaps through his relationships,” explains Puranik.

With this thought in mind, Puranik decided to extend his role beyond that of an actor and conceptualised and directed a play that would look at Marx’s life through his relationship and marriage with Jenny. The result is Mrs and Marx, which sees him reprise the role, and has Talwar, a German, essay the role of Jenny, the philosopher’s companion, wife, and editor. The play, produced by Harkat, premiered on May 5, Marx’s 201st birth anniversary, at Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) and will be staged again on May 12 at G5A Foundation, Lower Parel, Mumbai.

Satchit Puranik with Michaela Talwar in scenes from Mrs and Marx

The play celebrates the relationship Marx shared with Jenny, whom he met at 13. She was four years older and remained his companion right until the end. Puranik believes that Jenny, who would edit his works, often coming up with titles for his writings, deserves to be recognised for her contribution to Marx’s philosophy, “which is being re-examined today as we watch capitalism fail”. “They went through several ups and downs, including the death of their two sons, but Jenny steadfastly remained by Marx’s side. Yet, they both dreamed of changing the world. This dream and their idealism drove them throughout,” says Puranik.

However, instead of telling a linear love story, Puranik and the team decided to adapt it to an Indian scenario, setting it in Mumbai. “We use the documentary theatre format for multiple reasons. Firstly, there is no footage and very few images of Marx available. So everything that we know of him is through his works and their accounts of their lives. But also, why are we telling this story in 2019? The economic disparities in the society that drove Marx to devise the idea of communism have only deepened. And we see that all around us in India. So we thought the setting could contextualise Marx’s philosophies even for the lay people while making it multilingual,” Puranik explains.

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