The bard and the rebel
The Hindu Fri, 29 Jun 2012
By ISHA PURKAYASTHA
The Prophet and The Poet, a play based on letters between Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, was well-researched and impactful
The Indian freedom struggle was far more than just a historical movement to rid our nation of the colonisers and further a radical notion of sovereign nation-building. It was the dawn of a new world; of an India that had awakened to her reality and was looking to reclaim her destiny. It was in the midst of revolution that differences emerged- famous friendships were forged and ideologies clashed.
The Prophet and The Poet, a play based on the exchange of letters between two stalwarts of the Indian freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore was staged at Alliance Francaise de Bangalore. A play by Bangalore Little Theatre, it has been performed 50 times since its opening. It premiered by invitation at Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram and has been performed since at the Visva Bharati University in Santiniketan and the Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata.
Gandhi and Tagore manage to shake the nation out of its stupor and awaken in its people the realisation that subservience must be replaced by proactive opposition. While both dreamt of an India that was sovereign, their approach was different in ideology and in practice. One roused the people through revolutionary and mellifluous prose, while the other preached active rebellion through non-violence and non co-operation. One advocated both eastern and western education as the path to holistic development, while the other distanced the people from western ideology and celebrated Indian-ness.
A poet and a politician, amongst others, took the mutiny against the British forward and realised the dream. Mentor, friend and critic to one another, they agreed very early on in their association to disagree. The play brings to life this 25 year old association through a series of letters that have been published by Visva Bharati University.
The play, whose script was developed by Vijay Padaki, is well-researched and impactful in its approach. It posits Gandhi’s stance and Tagore’s counter-stance (or vice versa) through excerpts from their letters in the form of a debate between the two. A minimal set and uncomplicated lighting set off an extremely natural and fluid performance by Mohammed Shameer, who explored the life of Gandhi and Abhijit Ganguly, who explored Tagore. Neither actor attempted to be either Gandhi or Tagore; each portrayed their separate points of view. The play was often a debate and equally often, contradictory views extrapolated in isolation, in the form of a monologue or soliloquy.
The play was mediated by the narrator, Madhu Smriti Shukla, who served to stitch the story together and locate it in a specific historical moment. Clear and animated, Shukla held the attention of the audience with her solid, memorable performance.
A project within a long term programme titled “The History of Ideas”, this play is as much a study of history through alternate archives as it is a performance. The project aims to produce plays based on the lives of people who have contributed “to human thought in a demanding historical context.” This play does just that, teaching us about ideological and ethical conflict and a historical friendship through the man Gandhi called Gurudev and the man Tagore called the Mahatma.