It’s only ironic that Jalna farmer Rajkumar Tangde’s Marathi play, Shivaji Underground in Bhimnagar Mohalla, about the legendary Maratha warrior king, recently crossed the 100 shows mark. Directed by Nandu Madhav, the politically sensitive play is staged entirely by farmers from Jalna, known for their ‘shahiri’. Shahiri is a form of folk performance where a singer tells stories through fast-paced songs interspersed with some narration. Highly energetic, it’s widely used now in mythologicals as well as social awareness tales.
Apart from presenting nuggets from history, it also says Shivaji’s last trip was to Jalna. As characters speak about the warrior king, it’s interspersed with satire about the plight of the farmers as well. As one of the characters sarcastically says, “Perhaps only a Shivaji can salvage the situation now.”
The actors tour all over Maharashtra, and the aim is always to “create awareness about issues, be it secularism or agriculture”. Director Nandu says the team is always stunned by the response. “We wanted to bring out aspects of Shivaji that are never highlighted, like the fact that he believed in an equal society irrespective of caste and religion. We never anticipated this response, so much so we are now trying to work out domestic and farming-related responsibilities and our schedule.” But doesn’t their being gone for days worsen the situation back home? Tangde looks resigned as he says, “It’s not like our presence results in profits of lakhs. Our farmers have never even seen marginal profits. At least through the plays we are trying to reach out to people and bring out some realities.” So after 108 shows, has it helped the situation? “Well, sometimes I wonder whether we are living in a democracy that is deaf or pretending to be deaf! Anyway, one has to try.”