theatre of war

On stage in Maharashtra, Nathuram Godse is seeing a revival

As a new play comes under attack for glorifying Gandhi’s assassin, an older version is threatening to make a comeback.

Nearly 30 years ago, in 1989, Pradip Dalvi’s Marathi play Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy opened to a maelstrom of controversy in Maharashtra. The two-act play told the story of Mohandas Gandhi’s assassination from the perspective of his killer, Nathuram Godse, resulting in an outcry and a ban on its performance for the next four years. That piece of theatre is making a comeback, after the appearance of a new play that has also been accused of glorifying Godse.

The new play, titled Hey Ram...Nathuram, was first staged on October 2, on Gandhi’s birth anniversary. It has much in common with Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy, beginning with actor Sharad Ponkshe, who has played the titular character of Godse in both plays. Ponkshe wrote and directed Hey Ram...Nathuram, following disagreements with the producers of Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy.

Since the first staging of his new play, Ponkshe has been at the receiving end of attacks from two sides.

On the one hand, Uday Dhurat, the producer of the older Godse play, has accused Ponkshe of copying the premise of the original – Dhurat now intends to revive Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy with new actors. On the other hand, in the week running up to Gandhi’s death anniversary on January 30, Ponkshe’s Hey Ram...Nathuram faced angry protests outside theatres in Sangli, Aurangabad, Thane, Nagpur and Pune, by local representatives of the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party and the Sambhaji Brigade, a Maratha vigilante group affiliated with NCP. On January 24, in Nagpur, some protesters were detained by the police, as a show of Hey Ram...Nathuram was cancelled.

According to the protesters, the play glorifies Gandhi’s assassin and ought to be banned. While critics don’t endorse a ban, they do believe that Ponkshe’s play is an obvious and worrying reiteration of the Hindutva ideology that led to Gandhi’s death in 1948.

Sharad Ponkshe. Credit: YouTube
Sharad Ponkshe. Credit: YouTube

‘Non-violence not the only way’

Ponkshe has refuted the allegation that his play – which Sambhaji Brigade calls “seditious” – glorifies Godse. Scroll.in was unable to reach Ponkshe, but in an interview with Marathi news channel TV9 in October, the actor-director claimed that his purpose of revisiting and revising the original Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy was to showcase the “truth” of Godse’s character without any glorification.

In the same interview, however, Ponkshe – the vice president of the Shiv Sena’s cinema wing – expressed an attraction towards some of Godse’s thinking. “He [Godse] was trying to say that non-violence is not the only successful way forward,” Ponkshe had said. “In these 70 years of being a non-violent country, even a nation like Pakistan has been able to attack us so many times. But recently when we responded with just one violent attack, the situation changed almost immediately.”

‘Assassination as vadh’

For many liberal critics, this line of thinking is not surprising, just as it wasn’t surprising when Ponkshe essayed the role of Godse in Pradip Dalvi’s older play for 14 years. “These plays bring out the fact that the Hindutva of old is no different from Hindutva today, which still persists in our midst and is in power,” said Anand Patwardhan, a documentary filmmaker whose 2002 film War and Peace closely looked at the impact of plays like Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy.

Right-wing Hindutva history, according to theatre critic Shanta Gokhale, has always seen Godse as a hero and Gandhi as someone who deserved to be assassinated. “They refer to the assassination as vadh,” said Gokhale. “In our myths, when heroes kill villains, the deed is called vadh.”

Playwright Ramu Ramanathan believes this glorification of Godse has grown more intense in the past two decades. “The BJP top leadership pays lip service to Gandhi and [Bhimrao] Ambedkar,” said Ramanathan. “But if you pay heed to the ideologues and their founders in the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh], the message is clear.”

Godse, a Brahmin from Maharashtra, was a member of the right-wing Hindu Mahasabha that also spawned the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. As Gokhale points out, Ponkshe was a member of the RSS until some years ago, when he quit and joined the Shiv Sena. While the Shiv Sena and the BJP lead a coalition government in Maharashtra, the Sena has announced a split with the BJP in the run-up to the Mumbai’s civic corporation polls. This, according to Gokhale, explains the Shiv Sena’s rousing support for Ponkshe’s play across Maharashtra.

“Although reconstructing/distorting history is not one of the Sena’s known objectives, it would be perfectly happy to go along with Ponkshe’s version of it, since he is now one of them,” said Gokhale. “Even more significantly, in today’s politics in Maharashtra, Ponkshe is against the organisation [RSS] that supports the BJP, which is Sena’s rival.”

A new Godse will rise?

Ponkshe’s new Godse play is currently touring parts of Maharashtra and is expected to be staged in Mumbai in the first week of February. Meanwhile, Uday Dhurat, the producer of the original Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy, is preparing to revive the old play, which hasn’t been staged since 2011.

“After playing a character for 14 years, it is sad that Ponkshe has chosen to trample on the work of the original playwright and do another play on the same subject,” said Dhurat. “But we are auditioning new actors and directors to bring our play back. A new Nathuram will rise again. We all love and respect Gandhi, but people need to know the other side of the story.”

While Patwardhan is convinced that the renewed presence of the Godse character on stage will be damaging to the social fabric, he believes the world of secular artistes has not responded adequately to counter this right-wing narrative of history. “But it is good if all of these attitudes come out in the open,” he said. “People should know that right-wing parties even today are in favour of those who killed Gandhi. Hopefully it will lead to some cultural resistance.”

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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.