THE UPSHOT
Makarand Deshpande’s latest drama, which premiered at the Prithvi Theatre Festival this year, is a hard-hitting, humorous op-ed in Hindi on the tide of Hindutva sweeping the country. Pegged to the Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir controversy, which is currently on the Supreme Court’s agenda, the play imparts the wisdom that god inhabits hearts and minds, not real estate.

Director and writer: Makarand Deshpande
Cast: Makarand Deshpande, Nagesh Bhosle, Ajay Kamble, Madhuri Gawli, Aakanksha Gade

Makarand Deshpande plays a knowledgeable tramp

A tramp (Makarand Deshpande) seeks refuge in a Ram temple only to be kicked out by Ram-bhakts because they think he doesn’t look the part of a devotee. It’s an obvious allusion to self-proclaimed gatekeepers of religion who frequently wreak havoc in the country (think gau rakshaks). The two parties clash prompting a police constable (Nagesh Bhosle) to intervene. The constable and the tramp strike up a conversation and what follows is a two-hour-long commentary on the country’s political, religious and social state of affairs.

The tramp’s extensive knowledge of the Ramayana and the intelligent way he views current affairs (the killing of soldiers in Kashmir, the felling of trees in Aarey Colony, bhakts forcing people to chant “Jai Shri Ram”, mob lynching and casteism) in the context of the myth, leave the constable flummoxed.

A mythological mash-up is the best part of the play

In a sermon that seems to spring from a heartfelt need in Deshpande to make people examine received beliefs and check their own majoritarian impulses, the tramp advises the constable to write his own mythological epic. The same gatekeepers of religion champion a single version of the epics, one of which they approve, when there are in fact many.  He goes on to demonstrate how the two great Indian epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, can be married and, in the process, suggests that over time, the world has only gotten more violent and bigoted.

The tramp’s epic mash-up, which is enacted, is hilarious, insightful and the high point of the play. Team Mahabharata comprises the Kaurava brothers, Duryodhana and Dushasana, while Team Ram is made up of Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman. The former are hell-bent on orchestrating the Drapaudi vastraharan while the latter sing songs of Ram’s glory to dissuade them from doing so. Dushasana tries to persuade Sita to take Draupadi’s place, but her proclamations of piety and Lakshaman’s warnings scare him off. Duryodhana reassures his brother by saying that in ‘kalyug’ (the current era) women are subject to far worse atrocities, a nod to MeToo.

‘Ram’ delivers a bleak view of the world

Deshpande’s tramp, who claims his madness allows him to see and converse with Ram, points out how the world has only turned for the worse. Ram Rajya, the ideal, mythic world that Ram bhakts hanker after, is impossible in today’s times. As the play marches predictably towards its tragic end, you do feel the weight of current times in which violence in the name of religion is a daily affair.