Play Review | Godhadi: India as a Quilt
Godhadi is written and directed by Manjul Bhardwaj.
In Marshall’s Book Cafe, I came across a poster of a Marathi play. And it was at that moment I made up my mind to watch this play. The poster of the play, at least to me, was a brave act, if not seditious.
The play is craftily titled ‘Godhadi,’ a patchwork quilt. Generally, Godhadi is stitched in lines with colourful patterns and of heterogeneous clothes. It figuratively symbolises the diversity and well-stitched unity of a nation. It connotes many things, anyway.
All at once, a reference clicked. It was made by someone with regard to the Constitution of India. And the person called the Constitution, ‘...a cumbersome and heterogeneous piecing together of various...’ Of course, it’s a stale statement. Nevertheless, you can Google who said it, in whatever way did he mean or demean it. Yet our Godhadi is good and unlike his view. The playwright must have had this in mind. Or rather it’s a critique of this stale statement.
The poster shows a colourful Godhadi rolled out on the map of India. A thoughtful and beautiful sight to see. As if it stitches, unifies and covers the polarised nation together. India—a Godhadi? Well, pleasure lies in visualisation. So be it.
Unafraid to say, under the present regime, it may attract sedition. After all, the fringe of power considers dissent seditious. I must confess that the poster reminded me of Dhumil’s rebellious poem, wherein he writes ‘हवा से फड़फड़ाते हुए हिंदुस्तान के नक्शे पर गाय ने गोबर कर दिया है.’ It speaks volumes and so does Godhadi.
What is India? If you asked VS Naipaul, he would say, "India: a wounded civilisation." He further writes, "India is for me a difficult country. It isn't my home and can't be my home, and yet I cannot reject it or be indifferent to it; I cannot travel only for the sights. I am at once too close and too far." The quotation, for a reason, may grip you with diasporic actualities. But the time has come to think beyond the diaspora and question the diaspora.
However, Godhadi courageously talks about this, indeed, difficult nation. It explores Indian culture as well as swiftly critiques the phony nature of the so-buzzed Indian culture. The play illuminates the story of India. It puts light on India's two sides as if it were a coin. Sadly, the coin is tumbling down. And mythically, it exposes the curtained Sun and a Jayadrath.
Well, Godhadi is (written) stitched and (directed) rolled out by Manjul Bhardwaj, who firmly believes that art is a romance with the truth. He and his comrades find the relevance of life in the theatre. They ideally call it a theatre of relevance. And it is through this they set out to revolutionise the citizens. The citizens are envisioned in the Constitution.
Manjul Bhardwaj runs the Theatre of Relevance. It is a movement that is working across the nation without any patronage. It has been going on for more than three long decades. It believes that a painting is not just a medium but the whole vision of humanity. It is a reflection. It believes the cause of the decline of mankind is the ignorance of cultural consciousness. And history may testify it.
Manjul Bhardwaj observes, "Theatre is the most effective medium to bring about an inner transformation leading to lasting social reforms." And rightly so. The theatre has been a medium of change. Theatre is never less than life. At least, it mirrors. Reflects us. Our stupidity. Often shocks us with our perceived reality and received wisdom.
In the book Unmasking the Mask, Mahaveer Jain and Manjul Bharadwaj shape the development of the theatre of relevance. They discuss the role of the theatre in self, group, organisation and community development. The theatrical involvement and engagement, the artists strongly believe, will be a consistent and constructive medium to bring the transformation leading to lasting social reforms. Art has a social commitment; it exists not for itself. It preaches as well as pleases us.
Likewise, the play sets to unmask the mask. The mask of evil. The mask of a lie and a prime liar. The play precisely outplays the cultural hegemony; it further urges us to unmask the caste. Unlike the theatrical mask, these artists unmask us and rob us of our essence. Of course, for the betterment of society.
One of the fascinating characteristics of the play is that there are nine or more female characters and three or fewer males. This has rarely happened before. Indeed, it’s a revolutionary thought. These female characters, of three generations, are in search of culture. This quest is a generational journey.
In the play, one of the female characters criticises the advancement of technology which has, of course, emerged from science, but is at war with nature. She believes that nature is science. The play highlights the fear of the destruction of human civilisation. Something like that, with the advent of AI, seems approachable, if not far. In what capacities, that is debatable.
Nonetheless, it has to be understood that humans have been reduced to arbitrary digits and numbers. To use a phrase, a scholar let out in a discussion once, “We're nothing but QR codes.” Thus, the fear lurks in, where might these QR codes lead us?
The play refers to the village as the soul of India. Yet it brutally attacks the village. The almost doomed soul ironically wants purity. The Indian villages have kept the castes and caste system intact. The structure of the village is so structured that there is hardly any chance for social mobility. These female characters tellingly remark on the farmers’ suicide. Perfectly so. In the book ‘Harvesting Hope in Suicide Zone’ Radheshyam Jadhav brings out the empowered stories of women who survived the draught and suicides of their men.
Surprisingly, in view of the 75th celebration of Indian Independence, the characters collectively seek the social audit. Of course, they are not after a CAG report. So the auditor can idle. Although the numbers rarely lie, they never tell the actual picture too.
The caste system is social, economic, political and cultural too. And therefore, the play Godhadi is about a cultural quest to de-caste Indian society. But there comes God who casts a spell of caste. As a result, Godhadi scathingly critiques Him. In his name, it believes, the commoners are exploited.
Frankly speaking, the play pulsates our sensibility. It awakens us. It is about and for the diversity of India. It weaves a new thread of human consciousness by exploring the festivals, customs, rituals and traditions of various societies along with culture, history, soil and nature. Godhadi is the essence of India.
India is not homogeneous. one nation—one language, one nation—one code, one nation—one leader are neither possible nor desirable. These could be attractive slogans, but not feasible. India may be difficult however, is indeed a diverse—heterogeneous nation.
To awaken the soul, sensitise the heart and civilise the mind, you should watch Godhadi. Well, if you are not democratic, secular and socialist then you MUST watch it. The play truly provokes the mind, if you have one. By the way, we must stitch a colourful Godhadi of heterogeneous clothes to protect humanity from exploitation, bigotry and from xenophobia.
Beyond a unified code, we must be civilised first.