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The saga of Sammy... the Mahatma's trials with truth

ROMESH CHANDER

Partap Sharma's "Sammy" employs theatrical convention to recount the story of Mahatma Gandhi's inner thoughts and life.

Last week, courtesy `Khusi' and `Ishwar', two city-based NGOs, we had an opportunity of seeing Partap Sharma's latest play "Sammy" presented by the Primetime Theatre Company, Mumbai and directed by Lillete Dubey.

First a brief introduction for our young generation readers. Partap Sharma's best known plays include "A Touch of Brightness", "Power Play", "Begum Sumroo" and "Zen Katha". He is also a novelist and no mean actor, who won the National Award in 1971 for his performance in Phir Bhi. He has also directed some outstanding documentary films like the "Framework of Famine" that was first banned and then released on the proviso that it would not go abroad; then there were the "Burning Question" (also banned) and "Kamli". He also wrote a historical series, "The Raj Through Indian Eyes" for Channel Four television, London. Starting in Delhi, Lillete Dubey has been in theatre for nearly 30 years as actor-director and producer. In 1991 she formed her company, Primetime Theatre Company and has so far directed about 20 plays for it, several of which have travelled in India and abroad. Nine years ago she shifted to Mumbai where apart from theatre she has done several TV serials and films including Monsoon Wedding, Baghban, Kal Ho Na Ho and Pinjar that received wide acclaim.

In a nutshell, Partap Sharma's "Sammy" tells the story of Gandhiji's life starting from South Africa to his death bringing to life different events in our fight for Independence. What is more, the play explores the conflicts between Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the Mahatma Gandhi, his inner self. The technique is not that new, but it is the way the playwright uses it and the way the two actors Ravi Dubey as the Mahatma and Joy Sengupta as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi project it, that makes all the difference.

The play is full of gems of wisdom taken mostly from Gandhiji's writings and put into a discussion between the Mahatma and Mohan.The playwright has an interesting way of changing the scene to carry the play forward. Listen to Mahatma when he says, "If the good succeeds, God is good; if the evil succeeds, God is evil. So my concern is not God as God may turn out to be, but the Truth. Because truth is God."

... .. "But how can an ordinary person like me tackle such a vast crowd?" asks Mohan. "Reach out to them, take away the blindfold and they will see...they called you Sammy," without completing the sentence the Mahtama withdraws.

To explain the meaning of the word "Sammy", the title of the play, the scene dissolves into Mohan standing besides the Police Superintendent's wife Alexander who, a few minutes earlier had saved him from the mob. Mohan asks her if the crowd knew what the word Sammy meant. "Yes, of course. Most of our indentured labour comes from India and most of their names end in Sammy, Ramasammy, Narayanasammy, and so on." "The word is Swami", Mohan corrects her. "But that is not important at a time like this," says Mrs. Alexander. "But it is. Because it means master or teacher," says Mohan turning to the men who are standing about watchfully and says, "Thank you, gentlemen. I shall endeavour to live up to that." Indeed, a masterly way of explaining the title of the play.

Touching scenes

As we go along we have some most touching scenes between Mohan and his wife Kasturba, and we learn something of his philosophy when he talks of his vow of celibacy. We are also told of his line of action against the government's decision requiring Indians to carry permits and how Kasturba was drawn into the movement.

Back at home in India the play touches upon some of the most important milestones in our struggle for independence like the Champaran agitation, the Dandi March, the massacre in Jalianwala Bagh, and the charkha as a weapon to fight the British. The pros and cons of the movement itself are discussed between the Mahatma (the inner voice) and Mohan.

As we reach towards the end the playwright discusses in depth the role of different leaders like Jinnah, Nehru and Gandhiji on the one hand, and the viceroy and his advisors like Glancy on the other. In short the play is a kaleidoscopic presentation of our freedom movement with Gandhiji's philosophy thrown in.

The cast as a whole plays beautifully with split second timing and includes many well known names on the theatre circuit in Mumbai like Zafar Karachiwala Anu Menon, Vikrant Chaturvedi, Danzil Smith, and Asif Ali Beg. While Neha Dubey in the demanding role of Kasturba at different periods of life projected herself with confidence, the later years of her life should have been carried with noticeable change in her physique and voice.The surprise of the evening was the Mahatma played by Ravi Dubey, back on the stage after 20 years.

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