The time has come to raise our voice…
The iconic playwright Bratya Basu, who wrote 'Sateroi July' in 2004, thinks that the play has greater relevance now as the fundamental rights of the citizens are being curbed by the non-secular political forces in power
When political discontent seethes in, Bengal has always been vocal. Theatre as a media has always raised its concern. It attains its high resistant node when communalism disrupts the secular thought process of the society. Religious fanaticism has raised its ugly head time and again in Indian vote bank politics to gain mileage in the number game and to dominate the poor, underprivileged class of the country. There have been strong divisive forces in power at national level spreading venom in the mind of the commoners to create polarisation. The Godhra carnage rattled the nation way back in 2002 resulting in communal violence. Pained by the shameless incident, the iconic playwright, Bratya Basu wrote 'Sateroi July' in 2004. He acknowledged that he was inspired by John Wexley's, 'They shall not die' and Utpal Dutta's 'Manusher Adhikare' in writing the play. Theatre group, Ganakrishti, first staged the production which was somehow discontinued after a few shows. The play has come back roaring on stage after almost ten years with a larger perspective in terms of the contemporary political situation in India. 'Thealovers', the 35 year old theatre group from Bengal, headed by thespian Bhargonath Bhattacharya is producing the play. Bhargonath thinks the play has greater relevance now as the fundamental rights of the citizens are being curbed by the non-secular political forces in power.
The play, 'Sateroi July' is set in post-Godhra Gujarat where the state administration is seen to be exploiting the minority communities on the basis of religious biasness by practising and nurturing 'Hindutva' in the 'laboratory' of Gujarat. The play starts with an innocent group of Muslim youngsters being implicated falsely on July 17 in a gang rape case by Hindu fundamentalists in village Erol in the Panchmahal district of Gujarat. The incident takes an ugly turn with the intervention of a local political leader Keshubhai Patel when he uses his power to produce false witnesses to prove the innocents guilty. The major part of the play is a nerve-wrecking court room drama where the protagonist Rakesh Chatterjee, the lawyer representing the accused, gradually tears open the nexus behind the organized crime being committed by the majority community to seal the fate of the marginalized in their ambition to create a Hindu nation. Pankaj Parekh, the public prosecutor, on the other hand, is seen to be quite popular in the majoritarian political circle and is even being favoured by the judge, Deepak Patel. In his act of accusing Asif Mirza of rape, Pankaj stereotypes Muslims of being rough, rude, ferocious, born criminals; they are represented as polygamous who target the timid, defenseless, vulnerable, honest and pious Hindu women to convert them to Islam. As the play progresses the hypocrisy in Hindu politics stands exposed. Hindus, who claim to be religiously superior to Muslims, do not even bother to use prostitutes, the typified 'immoral' class of the society, as their instruments to achieve their larger objective. The dominant class of the society exploits them to satiate their sexual pleasure when needed and scandalize them when not in need. Here Rakesh refutes the logic used by Pankaj by countering the stereotypes about Indian Muslims. He argues about the commonalities between both the communities who have historically stayed together. The play goes through intense arguments between the two lawyers fighting for opposing ideologies. Basu has painted the character of Rakesh with angst, empathy, rightfulness and emotions who demands equal justice for all, irrespective of caste, creed and religion. In the end, when the accused, Asif Mirza, an innocent, promising Muslim student is sentenced to death, despite the circumstantial evidence going in his favour, Rakesh does not hesitate to term the courtroom proceedings a farce and mockery of Indian judiciary and promises to appeal to the Supreme Court against the judgment.
Bratya Basu looks emphatic, flamboyant and a perfect picture of a qualified and passionate legal counsel of Bengal. He moves from one corner to the other of the courtroom and enlivens the proceedings with his unflawed delivery and diction. His versatility in acting reaches another level as he justifiably pitches his acting on a high level at times reflecting the character's involvement in getting fair justice for the accused. Biplab Bandyopadhyay, on the other hand is impressive and pushy which goes well with the character. His on stage exuberance catches the attention of the audience as he speaks out the mind of the majority in the courtroom drawing accolades. Bhargonath Bhattacharjee in his role as Justice Deepak Patel does his best to deliver a predisposed judgment. Abir Ghosh as Asif Mirza shows promise in acting. The large contingent of 36 actors contributes well to make the performance stimulating. The frequent appearance of Hindu fundamentalists with their band adds the required octane to the sensitive drama. The stage setup is innovative with the judge perched on the top of a highly placed pedestal in the audience, symbolizing the God's eye view. Debasish Dutta, the young director and the stage designer deserves kudos for his concept. He admits to experimenting by presenting the case in front of the 'Honourable' audience who then interestingly become the jury of the trial. The lighting by Saumen Chakraborty and sound creation by Dishari Chakraborty impacts well with the high pitch drama.
The term 'Hindutva' is now spreading its tentacles ostentatiously with the emergence of social rhetoric of 'Ghar-wapsi', 'Go-Raksha', 'Love-jihad' to create a fear psychosis among the minority communities in India. With the rapidly changing language of politics Bratya sees communalism as a disease that erupts from human mind, not from religion. According to him, it gains favour in the minds of middle class people out of frustration, as they try to find fault in their neighbors in a bid to pinpoint an opponent. In time of rising intolerance, the play raises hope of strengthening bonds between two communities in India.