In the wake of an era that witnessed a mass uprising against corruption in India, it is quite interesting to witness a play set in late 20th Century Italy find resonance in 21st Century Indian society.
Dario Fo’s ‘ The Accidental Death of Anarchist’ performed by the Saksham Theatre group at the amphitheatre of Pearey Lal Bhavan, New Delhi, post-mortem(ed) the present political climate of India with tools borrowed from the Italian theatre.
History and theme : Suspected of planting a bomb at the Agricultural bank in Milan, Guiseppe Pinelli, a railway worker, gets arrested by the police and is subjected to interrogation by the men in uniform. After four days in custody, Pinelli, deemed an anarchist, ‘falls’ to his death from the fourth floor of the police headquarters. While the incident is given the shape of an ‘accident’ or a possible case of ‘attempted suicide’ by the police, Pinelli’s death sends shock waves across Italy disturbing its social and political fabric.
That was 1969, Italy : Dario Fo’s ‘ The Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ came as a response to the ‘mysterious’ death of a railway worker where the playwright scrutinises the ‘multiple versions’ of his death documented by the police, judiciary and the media. The nexus of the three social organs comes in full display as Fo intelligently brings out the many inadequacies in the versions with the help of his theatrical device in a “Madman” who questions the credibility of political authority and succeeds in stripping them naked.
This is 2011, India : This ‘Madman’ in the Indian context assumes a reflection in the faces of Irom Sharmila, Binayak Sen and (the latest to join the league) Anna Hazare who brave the iron hand of the ruling power only to expose an inefficient government.
Director Sunil Rawat, who essays the role of the madman in the play named ‘Sanki’, exposes how governing bodies of the country which sit at the apex are plagued with corruption, nepotism and despotism. Says Sunil Rawat “the motif of the madman is very important for it is him who takes us into the underbelly of social institutions that work for self benefit while turning a blind eye to the concerns of the crying masses. Stories are cooked and political strategies are designed to paralyse the mass mobilisation that gains momentum under leaders like Anna.”
Disguised as the investigating ‘judge,’ the madman with his wit and quick repartee arm twists the police who tweak factual details of the anarchist’s death in bringing out ‘convincing’ versions to save their own skin. A flurry of emphatic questions rattles the minds of the police as they surrender to the mercy of the ‘certified’ madman.
At this instance, the scene shifts from the setting of the Milan Police headquarters to a ‘staged’ discussion on Anna Hazare’s fast at the Ramlila ground. While the madman brings out the structural flaws in the circulated ‘versions’ of the railway worker’s death/accident/suicide, you are reminded of the many ‘versions’ and revised editions of the Jan Lokpal Bill being churned out of the Standing Committee, the Government and of course the ‘Civil’ society leading to mass uproar.
Director’s cut : Says Director Sunil Rawat, “it is always the truth that has to fight a tougher and a longer battle. My adaptation of the play aims to put forth the deficiency of a governing system in full visibility…to make people realise that corruption is not an inherent part of society that we can live with. We have to stand up, question and challenge and not settle with whatever we are given.”
Meaning of a revolution : The play deconstructs the revolution mania too. A revolution or a protest should not be turned into a feeding ground of sensationalism. The agenda should be clear. And this is what the play wants us to see, to be able to separate scandals and conspiracies often masqueraded as ‘people’s revolution’ from a genuine ‘mass movement’ representing concerns of the marginalised and the downtrodden.
Story link: Dario Fo’s ‘Anarchist’ is still alive…