The barren region of Marathwada, particularly Beed and Nanded districts, may be on the national radar for all the wrong reasons (26/11 co-conspirator Abu Jundal hails from Beed) but 13 farmers are trying to change that.
These farmers have turned theatre artists and are creating ripples with their revolutionary play — Shivaji Underground in Bhimnagar Mohalla. The play attempts to change popular history by highlighting lesser known but crucial historical facts about Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
Here’s how the play goes. Indra, the king of the Gods, and ruler of heaven orders Yamraj, the God of death, to bring Shivaji to heaven along with his reforming ‘thoughts and ideas’. Shivaji deceives Yamraj saying he forgot to bring along his ideas and returns to earth to complete his unfinished work.
Yamraj returns to earth too in search of Shivaji. He suspects Shivaji and his revolutionary thoughts are hiding at Shiv Shahir Milind Kamble’s (Kailas Waghmare) home at Bhimnagar Mohalla. Kamble is the one who challenges the traditional Shahir Dharma (Sambhaji Tangde) and presents the authentic history of Shivaji through ballads.
The play says the history of Shivaji that is dominant now is biased and fashioned by a section of society for its own benefit. Instead of bridging the gap between Hindus and Muslims, dalits and other castes, this ‘manufactured’ history poisons the mind of people. It emphasises that in reality, Shivaji was a secular king. In fact, 35% of his army were Muslim and most of his prominent fort protectors were also from the minority community. Even the names of Shivaji’s father, Shahaji, and that of his uncle, Sharifji, were Muslim.
Over the centuries, these facts were replaced by a sensational and fictional history that have diminished Shivaji’s universal appeal.
It also satirises the present corrupt and myopic political system. It notes how political outfits misuse Shivaji’s name to polarise society into rigid Hindu and Muslim sections in order to build vote banks that help them stay in power.
It even lampoons present folk storytellers Shahir (Baba Purandhare and Shahir Deshmukh) over their sensational style of narrating the history of King Shivaji. They feel, it is this style that is responsible for spreading hatred.
The jugalbandi is one of the play’s most entertaining parts. It takes place between Shahir Dharma, the fiction teller, versus Shahir Kamble, the fact teller. Initially, spectators are drawn to the dramatized and masala version of Shivaji’s history. But Shahir Kamble in the end wins over the audience by presenting the lesser known side of Shivaji.
Though sometimes, the play’s tone can sound anti-Brahmin, it doesn’t detract from the fact that this play is a landmark in the history of Marathi theatre. The tightly-written play is attracting a new audience and rejuvenating the decaying Marathi theatre industry. It has also provoked people to think, discuss and debate and not to simply accept anything blindly.