What is humanity, family, nation, patriotism and nationalism? These are few of the many questions that Alankar Theatre’s new production, Rashtrawad Ka Mahabhoj will pose to audiences across the country. Inspired by Mannu Bhandari’s Mahabhoj, the entire group was involved for months in devising a new script, based on extensive research on the concept of nationalism, its history, rise of nationalism in India and the world, how the idea has changed over time, and its place in India.
The play tells the story of bureaucratic corruption and a silent war between two political parties headed by Da Sahab and Sukul Babu, who are fighting for Vidhan Sabha elections. The play is set in Saroha, Uttar Pradesh, where Bisu, a revolutionary Harijan, has been murdered. His friend Binda believes that Bisu had some information regarding a massacre, which he was about to present in Delhi, but was murdered before he could. SP Saxena, who was sent to look into the matter, is also penalised along with Binda.
The play questions communal politics, media and the existence of clean politics. “As we have devised the script and created a new structure of the play, humanity is the integral and core idea of the production. Society, community, nation and nationality, and how these terms are commonly accorded historic importance, are important aspects of the play,” says Nikhil Modi, who debuts as a director with this play.
An actor with Alankar for several years now, Modi says he is directing the play with the support of Chakresh Kumar, the founder of the group. “There has been a role reversal in this play, as he is playing the lead actor. The play has been a learning curve for I have had a chance to create a process. Each character in the play has something to say and working with a large cast of 35 had its own challenge,” says Modi, who has a B Tech degree, but adds that it’s the theatre that nourishes his soul.
Today, the word nationalism, adds Modi, is highly abused and forced. Humanity, the building block of any society, is struggling to find an identity and even worse, is lost in the entire battle. “Humanity should hold the primary place in any setting, but on the contrary, we witness humanity being murdered every day. It is our responsibility as artistes to be a reflection of the society,” he adds.
Three parallel stories have been created on stage — a devise to create many layers — with shlokas and chantings by singers. There is live music by Avir Bhav and Sachin Bhatt. “The theme is tough, there is no set pattern, with the play looking at all these issues in context with today’s time and what is happening around us,” says Kumar, the founder of the group, who is creating a new vocabulary in theatre by involving young people.
In the past few years, the group has played an integral part in spreading awareness of social issues among people. “All our plays, including Mahabhoj, are focussed towards the betterment of society and we are now travelling to different cities with our work. Our group is made of young actors and directors who have the zeal to make a difference with street plays, adaptation of works by eminent writers, devised and experimental plays, giving us a scope to explore varied dimensions of theatre and not restricting to any form or genre. Rashtrawad Ka Mahabhoj is our comment on the misplaced notion of nationalism, and how the need of the hour is to be human first,” he adds.