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Naru finds himself pulled towards the group formed by mill owners to create a schism in the movement


SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: June 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : Adhantar | Jayant Pawar | Kailash Sengar | Aniruddha Khutwad |

It said that there’s something in the air of Maharashtra that in spite of the onslaught of visual medium, theatre still manages to hold its own. And this phenomenon cuts across the ideological line. Although a shadow of its former self, the Marathi theatre scene continues to give some of the best works in the realm of Left, Ultra-Left, Right as well as Ambedkarite movements.

And while some of the states with strong theatre tradition started to lag behind with the advent of neoliberalism and allied phenomenon, Marathi theatre somehow continued to produce a gem or two even till the turn of the millennium. One such play is ‘Adhantar’ by noted journalist and playwright Jayant Pawar. An adaptation of the play was performed by students of National School of Drama under the direction of noted Marathi director, Aniruddha Khutwad, who is also an alumni of the institute.



National School of Drama

Written By: Jayant Pawar

Translated By: Kailash Sengar

Directed By: Aniruddha Khutwad

Cast: Bhumika Dubey, Vipin Kumar, Yatendra Bahuguna, Aprajita Dey, Piyush Dhumkekar, Satyender, Ramanjaneyulu Doosari and Vishal Choudhary

Set in the tumultuous years of Textile-Mill strike of 1980s and early 90s led by veteran trade union leader Datta Samant, the play is a stunning portrayal of the event and its consequences on a family based in all probability in the Chawl of Mumbai’s Lalbaug Parel. The setting is based in the latter years of the strike. The workers who lost their jobs had to resort to really small businesses and it deeply affected several families. Families in thousands were left fending for themselves on the street. This story is about one such family. This family is the representative of the time and events thattook shape then. The patriarch of the family has passed away. Although it is not mentioned explicitly, it is understood that he has died because of the heart attack aggravated by the loss of livelihood.

‘Adhantar’ means “suspended halfway” in Marathi and is an apt title for the play. The father has passed away, but the next generation is oblivious of his struggle and does not give two hoots about it. They are engrossed in the problems of their own. The link to the past appears tenuous, but is it?

“When I first read the play, the students were left so internalized that no one spoke a word for several minutes when the reading was over. I was confused initially that whether this silence signifies that they really internalized it or that they failed to grasp it altogether. It was the former one. I also shared in details the timeline and consequences of Datta Samant’s mill-strike with the actors so that they fully understand where is this play coming from,” says Khutwad.

In the quest for livelihood, relationship becomes the victim. But no one can do anything about it. Aai (Mother) is the patriarch of the family and is continuously struggling with the problems at hand. She’s the matriarch. She runs the family. But she’s always in the background. Her entire effort is concentrated on somehow preserving the remnant of a disintegrating family. She is also a worker, in her own home. She’s a representative of that. Her three sons and a married daughter have issues of their own. She, in ways more than one, is the binding force, but that force appears insufficient in the tug-of-war that the life and the complexities of relationships has waged. The next generation, although stuck in the limbo, is trying hard to shake away the past. It clearly does not want to connect or even relate to the problems of the mill workers.

Baba, the eldest son in the family, is well-read, and hence eager to disown his identity as a son of a mill-worker. His aspiration towards upward mobility is not matched with his actions. He does not want to work as he finds small works too demeaning for his intellect. There’s a certain hollowness in his personality. His attempts towards imposing his intellectual superiority over others and his passionate, but mostly hollow, literary discussions with his friend Satish suitably fortified by the effect of liquor, leaves audience in splits.

Khutwad sees a deeper message behind the laughter that he elicits. “I faced the same problem that Jayant Pawar faced when it was first staged in 1997. The audience of the play has remained essentially middle class in all these years and they somehow connect with his character. Pawar did not write his dialogue as a comic relief, but audience reaction has remained consistent throughout. The laughter that it elicits is not playful. This is rather a defense mechanism to hide the pain. It is surprising that those who are expected to sympathize with the suppressed class, actually find themselves connecting with Baba, although they too belong to that suppressed class. This is rather stark,” he adds.

The second son, Mohan, has been kicked out of a job and now passes time listening to cricket commentary. He was once good enough a player himself to play in the Ranji team, but has now resigned to his fate and does not even have the money to play in the mohalla team. Cricket for him is ultimate escapism. But it helps divert him from his pain.

Naru, the youngest of the lot, is uneducated and takes a turn towards the world of crime. He finds himself pulled towards the group that has been formed by mill owners to create a schism in the movement and destroy it. This is indicative of the rise of Shiv Sena as a thuggish movement that destroyed or co-opted around the same timethe Left centric worker movements of in Maharashtra in general and Mumbai in particular.

“Shiv Sena was yet to come up as a political movement at that time and was in its nascent phase. His waving of sword is indicative of that rise. There was a schism in the movement later, initiated mostly by the mill-owner. This led to the fracture of the movement. There was a deep conspiracy. The government and the mill owners were hand in glove to show these mills an ailing unit and then pave a way for its closure. The machines were evacuated clandestinely in the dark of the nights. A ground was prepared for closure. They had visualized the importance of the real estate and were acting accordingly. We see that in the form of Phoenix Mall today. This “mill to mall” moniker could be seen in our poster for the play too,” Khutwad maintains.

Another interesting character is that of the sister, Manju. Dissatisfied with her family life and the money she gets, she gets into an affair with a married Bania from the same mohalla, while her husband, a drunkard union leader is too bust with the movement to pay any attention to her. The affair lefts her pregnant and the incident forms an important plot point in the play. In ways more than one, the sister is a victim of the time and the circumstances.

Khutwad sees this entire incident as representative of something bigger. “Bania is representative of a new class that emerged in the mohalla. This middlemen class betrayed others and joined the fray. It is also representative of the class that emerged under the patronage of the real estate giants and started eating the mohallas from within. The new-found money managed to make a dent in the bastion of the working class too, and they saw themselves pulled towards new money, mostly at the cost of everything else that they once cared about. She wants her living standards to change, but she wants that change to be sudden and without any effort,” he opines.

Rane, the man in question, is a leader at a time when the decline has already set in. He is otherwise ideologically motivated but helpless. He understands the lack of physical intimacy and sexual needs of his wife but the constraints of space is a challenge. The entire thing leaves him frustrated. He’s a defeated leader. She, on the other hand, rather understandably, does not want to keep relationship with a defeated worker.

Rane’s mill shuts down for good at the end of the play, and he is awarded some compensation. He wants to celebrate but events beyond his control leaves everyone hanging in the limbo. Playwright Jayant Pawar came from a mill-worker family and it is natural that he brings in his personal experiences and observations. The play has the capacity to leave even the coldest and most impassive audience member stunned.

The performances are top notch. Bhumika Dubey as the mother is top-notch. He gait, movements and dialogue delivery are controlled but precise. In the role of aging matriarch who aspires to keep the family together even at the cost of continuously managing the conflicting egos, Dube shines brilliantly.

Yatendra Bahuguna as the argumentative but hollow Baba is downright superb. There’s a certain fluidity in his performance, which is lapped up by audience immediately. He manages to strike the chord and does so without exerting himself too much. Satyender and Piyush Dhumkekar as sons Naru and Mohan are good too.

Vipin Kumar as defeated union leader Rane brings a certain impotent rage and frustration to the character. His eyes are suitably emotive and does not fail him even at the most demanding of the scenes.

Except one guy from Nagpur, none of the actors were Marathi speaking. One is from Bhopal, another from Uttarakhand, yet another from Punjab; but all of them internalized the play in a way that the performances turned out to be top-notch. The problem might have been Mumbai-based. But it ultimately meant little as they did the play making it aproblem of their own.      

However, the start of the play is director Khutwad himself. His interpretation, especially for a non-Marathi, slightly elite audience, is remarkable. Khutwad tells me an anecdote about one of the shows.

“A family came to watch the play. The patriarch came all the way to the backstage and held my hands and said, ‘Ye meri apni kahani hai.’ I was taken aback. I thought he might have come from Maharashtra. But it turned out he was from Sahibabad and worked once in a factory in the industrial area there. Such is the influence and impact of this play. Of course Mumbai is an essential character here, but this can be juxtaposed anywhere else too in the country,” he concludes.

My own experience was hardly different. The play ends with the projection of current and past images of the closed and abandoned mills, with haunting poetry of late Narayan Surve in the background. Stunned to the core, it was difficult for me to speak for quite some time. The play and its performance will go down as one of the most forceful and relevant one in the recent history.


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017