R ight before by-elections for a seat in the Parliament, the corpse of a man called Bishweshwar or ‘Bishu’ is found below a bridge in Sitapur. Educated and aware young dalit farmers raise their voices for this man. That is how the drama Mahabhoj starts.
Bishu has been murdered, but parties politicise his death. Journalists try to take advantage of the situation. Police are complicit with the political parties. Bishu’s friend Binod knows the murderer, but the police conspire to frame Binod himself to hide the culprit.
Leaders are merrily enjoying a feast, sharing the stage with the dead Bishu. This is a stark scene depicting how leaders make pawns of ordinary people, and entrenched injustice. The crux of the story is how powerful people make fun of the dreams of the poor and innocent.
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The drama is based on a novel of the same name by Indian writer Mannu Bhandari. Written in 1979, it begins with the murder of a dalit youth just when local and central-level elections are approaching. Bhandari herself converted the novel into a play, and poet Viplob Pratik translated it into Nepali. Pratik says the novel, written 40 years ago, is still relevant in Nepal. “This drama shows the impact on society when the 3P’s — politics, press and police — are corrupt,” he says.
“Vultures are circling a corpse, dancing as they devour it,” says the first paragraph of the novel. Critic Pooja Madan says that writer Mannu Bhandari has evoked vultures as politicians benefitting from murder. The play is also a satire on an opportunistic bureaucracy. Says director Anup Baral: “A drama should not just give a message, but also portray reality correctly. It should be able to communicate to the audience and raise questions and curiosities.”
The performance, which is playing to packed halls, shows how ordinary people become hostages and playthings of the media, politics and police. Director Baral says the play is idea-centric, rather than revolving around characters or events like most dramas, while presenting a realistic story in a poetic way.
Actor Ramesh Budhathoki plays central character politician Ramesh Bikram. “My character shows how a clever politician can turn the situation to his advantage,” he notes. Actress Sirjana Subba makes an impact as an honest, pregnant police officer and says her character is meant to show that being pregnant is not unsafe.
The play also includes contemporary songs by the poet Viplob Pratik. Strong acting by Dayahang Rai, Buddhi Tamang, Rajan Khatiwada, Viplob Pratik and Vijay Baral bring the play alive.
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Mandala Theatre, Kathmandu
5:15 PM, Until 4 Oct