Pandit Aur Pathan peeks into a forgotten chapter from our Independence struggle
Independence Day and Madras Day may have passed, but a love of the motherland still lingers in the air. Tapping into this is Theatre Nisha’s latest production, Pandit Aur Pathan. A one-man show, it tells the oft-overlooked story of Ramprasad Bismil and Ashfaqullah Khan—freedom fighters and poets who moved away from the Gandhian ideology of non-violence, to embrace arms and take the British head on. “They were the masterminds behind looting the Saharanpur-Lucknow passenger train (the Kakori conspiracy), but they were not terrorists. They were intellectuals who knew a lot about Indian and western philosophies and had their own method of working which they thought was the correct way. But the history books have forgotten them,” says V Balakrishnan, the director.
Admitting that he has been toying with the idea for over a year—though he’s been inspired by it from childhood (“Bismil was the ‘guru’ of some of my heroes like Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh”)— Balakrishnan explains he wanted to introduce their story to a wider audience. “Films like Rang De Basanti did it to a small extent—Aamir Khan’s and Kunal Kapoor’s characters were based on Bismil and Khan—but it still isn’t enough,” he says.
Scripted and enacted by Anantharaman Karthik, the play is an adaptation of Bismil’s autobiography, Aatmakatha, and the biography Ramprasad Bismil Rachnavali by Dinesh Sharma and Asha Joshi. “It has been created in a poetic form, incorporating their own poems and songs like Ashfaq ki Aakhri Raat by Agnivesh Shukla and Bismil Azimabadi’s Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna, so there will be a rather surreal cast to it all,” says Balakrishnan. The 70-minute performance will begin with the two in prison, awaiting their death penalty, and will then go back in time to tell the story of their lives. “The play also explores religion and friendship. This was a time when the British concept of divide and rule was working very well and Hindu-Muslim suspicions were on the rise. Yet Bismil, an ideological Hindu, and Khan, a staunch Muslim, never found their religions to be an impediment in the path of their ideals,” he says.
Back and forth
While Balakrishnan admits that the structure of the play was clear from the start, the challenge was to design it such that both characters could speak through one actor. “It needed an interesting design that was not ornamentation, but more organic, to help the audience differentiate between Bismil and Khan,” he says, adding that since the play needed a linear movement, he’s created four platforms for the actor to move between, to denote different spaces. The actor and the director have also ensured the play didn’t come off as a musical. “The songs are sung like how young boys would sing it, much like rangeet, where it doesn’t matter if the metre or pitch slips once in awhile. It just adds to the authenticity of it all,” he concludes.
September 5-6, at Spaces, from 7 pm. Free entry. Details: 42158062
Surya Praphulla Kumar