In the opening scene of Chaitanya Tamhane’s 2014 film Court, social activist Narayan Kamble – played by Vira Sathidar – performs in what is presumably a Mumbai slum. Singing fiercely in Marathi, Kamble urges his audience, “Zaan zaan zaan re, dushmanala zaan re” – “know your enemy” – right before he is placed under arrest.
The character is based on Dalit activist, playwright and balladeer Sambhaji Bhagat, who has also composed the music for the film.
Hailing from Mahu in Maharashtra’s Satara district, Bhagat’s moved to Mumbai in 1979 at the age of 20. Here, he enrolled in Wadala’s Ambedkar College and resided in Siddharth Vihar hostel, a centre of Ambedkarite and Left politics at the time. Bhagat has cited an instance when he saw a group of people performing a street play at Churchgate station as the defining moment that propelled him towards a career of music and revolution.
His songs lie at the intersection of art and protest, addressing caste violence, socio-economic inequality, and the pitfalls on a non-inclusive development model. His works also offers a scathing critique of the political establishment and the manipulation of history. Bhagat’s plays include Shivaji Underground in Bhimnagar Mohalla, which presents an alternative history of the ruler other than the one co-opted to enforce Maratha pride, and Bombay-17, detailing life in the slums of Dharavi.
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