Tuesday, December 11, 2018
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Posted at: Dec 2, 2018, 1:55 AM; last updated: Dec 2, 2018, 1:55 AM (IST)

Myth meets lore meets reality

Myth meets lore meets reality
Muhnochini scratches the real issues

Rana Siddiqui Zaman

The stage opens with a priest-like man named Tathagat, sporting a symbolic choti and a small pitcher wrapped in a chunri in his hand. He constantly indulges with a river, Saraswati, constructed on the stage by frugal means. A room overlooking the priest attracts attention with the flicker of light, apart from the sounds of numerous bells ringing intermittently. The rest is monologue by him, nearly 55-minute long, through which the audience will have to make sense of the play and its content.

Welcome to the world of Muhnochini, a new-age solo act by Shardul Bharadwaj. He speaks mostly to the Saraswati and addresses her as maa. It shares his pain, anguish, fond memories, of anger, frustration and his final decision on how he wants to lead his life.

A highly symbolic play, it only hints at how Tathagat loves and worships mother river, counts his wrongs before her, seeks forgiveness, gets perturbed at the sound of the bells, fondly remembers his sister, locks her in a room and, finally, kills her — all these with no direct reference to anything, yet, exposing a strong affiliation with superstitions people live with, gender politics, honour killing and power play.

Unfortunately, the erudite piece of work, enacted highly skillfully, fails to connect with the audience. To this Bharadwaj says, “My plays are not for the masses.”

It is when one speaks to this FTII (Films and Television Institute of India) alumnus that the knots lose their grip, slowly. The idea of the play originated after Qandeel Baloch, a Pakistani model and social media celebrity whose controversial videos went viral, was killed by her brother in 2016. He said she brought disrepute to the family. Besides, kidnapping, mob lynching and the mythical Saraswati together find a space in Muhnochini.

Shardul explains, “When Baloch was murdered to save family honour, I was reminded of this little girl’s murder in Kashmir. I was shocked to see how the media repeatedly forced the word rape of the child, and how videos giving details of her rape received millions of hits by those who saw it as porn, as if a female’s recognition is not beyond her private body parts. Her murder felt like a personal loss to me, but, at the same time, we oversimplify cases like these. We never look at the ‘other side’ of the story. In most honour killing cases, I feel the killers, who are mostly family members, kill the person themselves, before she is mutilated and dishonoured before the whole village and the world via social media.”

All this triggered the content and context of the play, co-written by Bharadwal Noel and Siraj Sharma. Significantly, Muhnochini was created as fruition of the theatre grant from Goethe-institute/Max Mueller Bhavan called ‘Refunction’, which aspires to encourage independent theatre artistes and groups to create and develop new work. Among 30 entries, this play was selected and staged at the Bhavan recently.

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