Ghashiram Kotwal- Modassar
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Warsi 1 Modassar Warsi MA English, 4th Sem. The EFL University January 15, 2012 Creating while Performing: Vijay Tendulkar’s Ghashiram Kotwal “I have more questions than answers, more problems than solutions. As long as you don’t know the problem fully, it is easy to find solutions.” -
Theatre has always been a social hub of any community. Since its inception, drama has championed the task of entertainment as well as teaching. However, when Bertolt Brecht introduced epic drama it emphasized mainly on the didactic role of theatre. The stage became a platform for a free flow of ideas and thoughts, trying to refine the society that was against such exchange of ideas because the society has been enmeshed in chaotic situations. Modernism in Indian Drama could be attributed to changes in the structure as well as the form of the plays. It is true that the influence of Western theories have also helped towards this process of modernization. Vijay Tendulkar is considered a pioneer of Modern Drama in Vernacular language. His most celebrated work, Ghashiram Kotwal, could be seen as the harbinger of a new heights attained by Indian Drama. This paper will try to see the logic behind Tendulkar’s merging of traditional folk form and the modern form. There is a return to primary orality in using the traditional form in theatre. There is an excessive use of music in the play which nonetheless assists the performance of the play. These marked experiments could be seen as an endeavor to re-create historical facts which otherwise are formulated in the hands of privileged few belonging to the upper class. This is worth exploring is some detail. The playwright is trying to raise contemporary questions in the
Warsi 2 backdrop of an idealized past where he rigorously questions the validity of that past. The play has been successful according to Tendulkar because it raised certain controversies; leading towards thought process. I would examine the various facets that combined together to give the play its desired affect and much earned success. This play has been seen as an entrance of Indian drama in a newer arena of modernity in theatre. The fusion of the Dashavatar Khel and the Tamasha could be seen as providing a desired effect to the play. The Dashavatar form is used ironically in the play as it is a folk dance drama where ten incarnation of Vishnu would destroy the evil. What one witnesses in the play is just the opposite. Tamasha also could be seen as a dance drama where the story is mainly about the adventure and romance of the protagonist. However, the playwright has even twisted this form by using it to spin a tale of misadventure of a Kotwal and lustful indulgences of the head of the state. Tendulkar has brilliantly cast these Marathi folk forms while imbibing it to his drama to serve a vital role. It even helps in creating the plot which is justifiably historical. It is important that the audience should feel that they are transported back to the older times. The excessive musical and rhythmic structure of the play gives it a racing speed. So it could be said that the folk forms — pantomime of the Dashavatar and the wit of the Tamasha — give a historical ambience to the play. However, it is obviously not a folk drama. The playwright has used these forms flexibly. The centrality of the plot where the story seems to have gone through a vicious cycle gives the play an altogether different structure. The Sutradhar has a very important role to play in the drama. He could be seen as an alienation device used by Tendulkar. His role has been extended by the playwright from merely introducing the play to the audience to a state where he is almost always present on the stage. It is through him that we find that the play moves towards primary orality which is but not a possible phenomenon in a society based on literacy, where people know how to read and write. So, the play
Warsi 3 creates such a surrounding where one could partially experience such primitive and pure form of oral art. The repetition is a keyword here for it is the most characteristic feature of an oral literature which facilitates memorizing. In this light, even the chorus has an important role to play in association with the Sutradhar as it repeats what he speaks. The chorus does not simply repeat, it reiterates only a part of the line spoken by the Sutradhar and at times slightly changes it that gives a new dimension to these repetitions. The chorus mimes many actions which could be seen as an instance where the playwright is trying to avoid even language to keep the actions away from its politics. It even acts ironically to the action depicted in the play. One such instance is where torturing of an innocent Brahmin is masked by the loud chanting of God’s name. This leads to an added stress on the degrading condition of the society which not only errs but knows how to conceal it under the garb of good and noble. Thus, the chorus with the Sutradhar emerges as the third most important presence on the stage after Nana Phadnavis and Ghashiram Kotwal. Vijay Tendulkar has claimed that Ghashiram Kotwal is not a historical play. However, one cannot overlook the historicity of a play which is set in the period of Peshwa Rule in eighteenth century and even the title suggests a person who actually lived during that era. Besides, the plot presents a parallel history which challenges the historiography; attacking the belief that history is a collection of fact and so it should be authorized. History is important because it is considered to be concerned with one’s past which gives us a sense of identity. The playwright presents an altogether different character of Nana Phadnavis than perceived by most of the people. During the Peshwa rule the Brahmins were at the apex of power. The play shows that instead of leading towards progress they indulged in carnal pleasure. Nana Phadnavis, instead of being a great statesman and ruler who resisted the British in Poona, is portrayed as a lustful and manipulative ruler who is excessively self-indulgent. This was seen as an attack on the iconic figure of Nana — created during freedom struggle — and an insult upon the image of Chitpavan Brahmins. The treatment of
Warsi 4 history in the play unsettles the stability of its agency because one is led to think that history is after all a subjective entity. It is not about facts but point of view. History plays an important role during colonization also as it acts as a tool which the colonizers use. They tamper with native’s history so the aborigines begin to think of their culture and past as primitive. This belittling gives the colonizers an upper hand where their own culture is propagated as the standard over the colonized. The playwright is still not so much concerned with this act of colonization. His main target could be summed up in what Vibha Saxena mentioned in her essay elucidating a postcolonial perspective of the play: “Significantly, with the onset of colonialism and the arrival of a new and more sophisticated form of exaction and rule — founded on Capital and industry — older injustices and hierarchies were strung together into a form of servitude which the colonised solely attributed to the coming of the coloniser.” (Bhalla, 30) The complex process of colonization (cultural colonization is a passive yet the most effective means to subjugate natives) allows the native leaders to absolve themselves of any evil that were attributed to them. These are shifted to the colonizers straightforwardly. The local people re-invent past as glorious by creating idols and icons to give a sense of superiority of indigenous culture. The artists — a historiographer is also one of them — have tried to rationalize their fictional accounts to create icons. Tendulkar seems to be challenging this through demythologization where he lays bare the inner working of power in the hands of the upper privileged class. There are many who agree to what the playwright has said. They don’t see the play to be dealing with a historical setting. They consent to what Tendulkar has said in the interviews that the play is mainly about the foul play of power. It is only incidental that the setting selected for this
Warsi 5 play happened to be Poona of eighteenth century but he expresses his actual intention in an interview given to Mukta Rajadyaksha for Frontline: “True, Ghashiram was inspired by the rise of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the transformation of an artist like Bal Thackeray into a mass leader. But the focus of my exploration there, as in most of my other plays, was on human tendencies, human frailties that change people almost overnight.” The play might have depicted Ghashiram as a cruel Chief of Police but it is mainly trying to highlight him as a representative of those common people who become puppets in the hands of the powerful groups and are used for their selfish ends. It is worth noticing that destruction of this Ghashiram does not ensure the end of their production. It is about Ghashirams — used as a common noun — according to the playwright. They will continue to raze the society because the ones who create these monstrous characters are unscathed. The aestheticized politics is a menacing presence in our society. It is a tough challenge to raise voice against ideas that are ingrained into self since birth. Tendulkar has dared to flow against the stream where he is trying to rationalize the politics. Ghashiram Kotwal is not a protagonist of the play as the title suggests. It is mainly about the Nana Phadnavis. However, one can see the logic behind this adroitness. It is symbolic of the situation as it stands in the plot. It draws our attention towards the episode where one hears Nana’s soliloquy: “What’ll happen is that our misdeeds will be credited to your account. We do; our Kotwal pays.” The same transferring is happening with the title as well. Although Tendulkar attacks Nana Phadnavis, he conceals it behind the name of his Kotwal. Ghashiram is only a puppet in the hands of his superiors. He is the name given to the invisible face of power. He is only a scapegoat who works as an insulator for the corrupted heads of the state who need him to attribute
Warsi 6 their evil onto him and therefore to maintain their sanitized status in the public. Rather, Ghashiram remains an outsider all through the play. This otherness has been profitably used by Nana for his selfish motives. “Ghashya, child you’re a foreigner. I have put you on Poona’s back… You’ll not be able to join them; they’ll never trust you even if you do. Because you’re a stranger, you’re an outsider. We just raised a dog at our door to the Kotwali. We are your sole support.” (Tendulkar, 25) The play could simply be seen as an attack on the barbarity of the human being itself. The human beings who considered themselves to have developed since they were conceived were shown to be still directed by their baser and raw passion and desires. Thomas Hobbes’ speculations about human still exist that every man is every other man’s enemy; that the world is directed by selfishness. Nana Phadnavis is worried only about his lustfulness where even his seven wives and the various concubines are not enough to satisfy his passionate self. On the other hand Ghashiram Kotwal could not content himself where he sacrificed his daughter to gain power and exercise it to take revenge from the common people. He seems to enjoy the scenes of macabre and bloodshed. When he says, “Feels good” he falls below the stature of animals that resort to violence only out of necessity, and not for pleasure. The act of marginalization of Ghashiram Kotwal and other minor character well reflects the way the society has been working since time immemorial. On deeper analysis, the play is trying to show the working of the invisible but the most potent entity; power itself. The many post-modernist philosopher propounds that it is power only that makes this world go round as every action is directed towards assertion of power one kind or the other. These universal issues concerning human aptly dealt with by the playwright makes Ghashiram Kotwal relevant in all times to come.
Warsi 7 The modernity of this drama also owes to the fact that it juxtaposes the past with the present. This unison results in a chaos that is traced not on the physical level but is rather traced back to human psyche presented through the characters of Ghashiram Kotwal and Nana Phadnavis. One cannot overlook that the play sheds light on many relevant issues which are important in the analytical study of any society even when they are dealt with less seriousness. The character of Lalita Gauri and the British officer leads one to think seriously about them just by the virtue of their silent presence. (Both spoke only once in the whole play.) Ghashiram’s daughter’s silence shows her helplessness and her miserable condition. It is due to her silent capitulation that she met a tragic end which also highlights the loss incurred on Ghashiram owing to his unfettered ambitious desire for revenge. She has been an object of pleasure for Nana Phadnavis. Once she becomes pregnant, she is needed no more and must be done away with. Conversely, the British officer’s presence suggests observance and watchfulness. A scenario is created where the British could be seen as an alternative solution to the problems raised by the disastrous actions led by Nana. However, the officer’s silence downgrades this assumption which also gives a hint at the process through which British began their dominance over their colony. This was preceded through a long span of observation which was necessary to understand the alien culture so that they could vanquish it later. This play always seems to be open to sundry new interpretations which suggest the infinitude of any literary text. It could be said in the end that performance of such a play in front of a large audience creates havoc as it destroys those entities that constitutes the stable base for one’s life. The play gives a sense of groundlessness where one is led to think that what appears as truth might only be one of the many possible versions of the same. Ghashiram Kotwal will always appeal to all, in all eras owing to the universality of its theme. Tendulkar could well be considered a guide for a common people, who risks his own safety to ensure the safety of the larger section of
Warsi 8 the society. He unveils the working of power that is generally hidden from the people and explores the human psychology, and how the first could be used to mold the second into subservience. The play was banned and the playwright was assaulted even in an independent India. After all, what’s the use of a play which does not raise controversy for it leads people to think and action can only emerge out of thought processes. Bibliography
Tendulkar, Vijay, Ghashiram Kotwal. Trans. Jayant Karve and Eleanor Zelliot. Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1984. Print.
Bhalla, Neela, ed. Vijay Tendulkar: Ghashiram Kotwal. Delhi: Worldview Publications, 2000. Print.
“Modern Indian Drama” Dec, 2011. Online.
Tendulkar, Vijay, Ghashiram Kotwal: Sampurn Natak. Dec, 2011. Online.
“Traditional Theatre Forms of India” Dec, 2011. Online.
Rajadyaksha, Mukta, ‘My writing has always been honest’: Interview with Vijay Tendulkar. Vol. 22- Issue 24. Nov. 19 – Dec. 09, 2005, Frontline. Dec, 2011. Online.