Tagore`s `Muktadhara` retold - still topical and relevant

New DelhI: Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore`s emblematic play `Muktadhara` (The Waterfall) has come alive in a retelling by noted director-playwright Bhanu Bharti whose production `Tamasha Na Hua` (There was no Fun) is timed to coincide with the poet`s 150th birth anniversary this year.

"The re-enactment of the 1922 play which raises vital issues about man, machine and the conflict between humanity, development and nature in a contemporary light is a tribute to the bard from Bengal," Bharti told reporters.

"`Muktadhara`, often hailed as one of Tagore`s finest plays, is interpreted as the poet`s admiration for Mahatma Gandhi`s peaceful co-existential philosophy and the poet`s denouncement of the machine in favour of human freedom," he added.

The action of the play takes place in fictional Uttarkut, ruled by an autocratic king. The waterfall flows from a headland in Uttarkut downstream to "Shiv Terai" - a valley which sustains on the cascade.

The king decides to subjugate the people of "Shiv Terai" by damming the waterfall to deny them water.

The royal engineer, Vibhuti, works for 25 years on a monstrous engineering contraption that looms high over a shrine of Lord Shiva to dam the waterfall at its heights.

The heir to the throne, the tyrannical king`s adopted son, who was found abandoned by the waterfall, frees the cascade from the confines of the dam by demolishing the machine.

The torrent from the waterfall sweeps everything in its stride, including the prince who becomes a martyr for the cause of freedom.

"My production is a play within a play. While rehearsing the play, the actors argue about its relevance in the present time and raise a crucial question - the fight between machine and man which has been bothering us for two centuries," Bharti said.

"The argument leads to a famous debate between Tagore and Gandhi about freedom," he added.

Bharti`s play picks up the threads of narrative action from "Yantraraj Vibhuti" - the royal mechanic`s endeavour to set up the damming device.

"The issues that the characters argue are more complex than those articulated by Tagore because machines are taking over in a big way in all spheres of our lives. Machines have become so important to human existence that it has bred an addiction for them," Bharti said.

The dam on the waterfall symbolises this widespread mechanisation, the playwright said.

The play also touches on the other side of the dam versus man debate that "big dams are important to development and existence", he said.

"Through the arguments of the rehearsing actors and the debate between Tagore and Gandhi, we visit Karl Marx, the 20th century ideologue, and the romantics to comment on modernism and post-modernism - the divergent political and social ideologies," Bharti said.

"The message in my play is that there is no single path, ideology or philosophy which can define freedom. We have put up a lot of dams around us."

`Tamasha Na Hua` is being staged at the Shriram Theatre in the national capital June 28-30, following which the production will tour the country.