A Kannada play from Kalagangotri, Bengaluru
I walked into the theatre with a premonition that this might have something to do with Kissa Kursi Ka or Yes, Minister. I was proved wrong. This two-hour comedy has few one-liners, which are usually the staple of comedies. Instead, actions and reactions make you laugh. Mukhyamantri also makes you realise that *seeing* a drama is a richer experience than merely hearing it on the radio.
The stage was swathed in white: the ‘divans’-and-bolsters for visitors at the party office and at the CM’s residence, the dining table, a colleague’s residence, the party ‘uniform’ (including the cap). The exceptions to this colour scheme were a few telephones, an extinct contraption called a typewriter (some of you might have to Google that), three ladies who brought in a modicum of colour, and the hearts of the characters involved.
Chief Minister of Udayachal, Krishna Dwaipayana Kaushal is worried about losing his chair, as rivals in the party are jockeying to catch the High Command’s eye and grab his post. But he is made of sterner stuff. His various machinations to retain the position remind us that liquor, flesh and food may be powerful motivators, but the most potent of them all is ‘power’.
Frequently, the Chief Minister’s name is shortened to KD Kaushal, with its obvious negative connotations in Kannada. For people not familiar with the usage, KD, pronounced as keDi, is a word used to refer to a delinquent or a ‘rowdy-sheeter’ and is said to have its origins in the noting of the initials KD, for Known Depredator, police records during the British times. Quite a few laughs are raised when KD ‘dictates’ the next day’s news report to a pliable journalist, before the events have actually transpired.
Sometimes, even dialogues are not needed to get the audience to burst into laughter. Like the Indian celluloid policeman hero removing his shirt before thrashing the villain, one of the rivals removes his white cap (almost as an afterthought) before imbibing ‘sherbet’. The mere sight of that rival after his liquid nourishment, as he assesses the complicated probability of putting his two feet into the four images of footwear he possibly sees, with some well-executed manoeuvres to accomplish the same, is sufficient to get the audience roaring.
There is a bit of anachronism in the play. Many conversations happen over telephones that clearly belong to the 1980s, but one photo-journalist seems to be using a mobile phone to take a video. If mobiles were available, why talk over landlines, given the fact that the interlocutors are worried about their phones being tapped. For gosh sakes, they are the party in power. So they must be bothered about their rivals or maybe, even the High Command listening in.
The play traces its origins to a 1976 novel of the same name, by Chanakya Sen. The novel was adapted into a Hindi play by NSD stalwart Ranjit Kapoor. When translating from the Hindi original, TS Lohitashwa seems to have retained names like Dubey, Desai,Tripathi, Sahay etc., though the characters speak Kannada. That must make it easy to convince local politicians, who might otherwise take umbrage, that they are not the ones being lampooned. The play is directed by BV Rajaram and has done over five to six hundred episodes, we are told.
There are many plays named after people, but only a few examples of an actor becoming synonymous with the play. “Has Chandru made Mukhyamantri famous or has Mukhyamatri made Chandru well-known?” is a difficult question to answer. A bit of both, I think. I understand that the success of the play prompted the lead actor to change his name from Chandrashekar to Mukhyamantri Chandru. He has played the role in all the enactments of this play for over 34 years. His dialogues are delivered with a characteristic smile at times, but they are always delivered loud and clear. Though I felt some of the other characters were not speaking that clearly.
Parties in power may come and go and Chief Ministers might be sworn in or uprooted, but this Mukhyamantri seems to be going strong, unmindful of the torrents that swirl round him in the real world outside, reacting only to the turmoil in the play. In a case of real life imitating the stage, Chandru took to the path of politics and won an election, but his alternate career did not really take off as successfully as his play has done.
No, the play is certainly not Yes Minister! But it is worth seeing at least once for the portrayal of the Mukhyamantri.