Karl Marx is the most influential socialist thinker of all time. Till he was 17, his motto was basically – beer pivanu, thoda aur beer pivanu, majjani life. That is when he met Prof. Bruno Bauer. His motto, after that, for the rest of his life, became – study karanu, book likhanu, revolutionary life. He was deported and banned across all of Europe, starting with his motherland, Germany. His works led to the socialist revolution in Russia which ended in Lenin setting up communism in the country. The troublemaker, the history taker, the free thinker shackled by poverty himself, as he took on the system which led to it.
Now, imagine that same man, angry about the prevalent social system, dancing to the beats of Psy’s Gangnam Style and singing his own Hindi lyrics to it.
Yes, both those things together is Karl Marx in Kalbadevi. It is a mix of Marx’s personal life, his theories and philosophies, mixed with the idiosyncrasies of him being in one of the most crowded places in Mumbai in 2016.
The backstory to Marx’s appearance in present time goes like this: Mr. Marx wants to clear his name off the many allegations the world has burdened on him in the 160 years or so he has been dead. He decides to come to Mumbai to visit Mani Bhavan, to fix his name, but is denied entry owing to strict timings of the now museum. This is when he chances upon Manoj Shah, who offers him an hour and a half to tell the world whatever he has to. There is only one demand – entertain the audience every now and then. Thus begins a crazy song, dance and gossip routine in and about Marx’s own life. Peppering all of this is a vivid appeal to the audience to not have the Gujarati thali at Bhagat Tarachand, owing to his own experience.
Adapted from Howard Zinn’s 1999 American play, Marx in Soho, the play was first performed in Gujarati for a couple of years before it made its way into Hinglish due to popular demand. Writer Uttam Gada has seamlessly fused Mumbai references, and made it truly Indian, with regular references to our very own Mahatma Gandhi. A special mention is deserved for Marx’s Worker Janato, a spin-off of Gandhi’s Vaishnav Janato. The connections are brilliantly made, and the messages are relatable and still relevant, despite there being some complex talk of Marxist philosophies and theories.
The play brilliantly chronicles Marx’s life through Marx himself and shows a side of him the world barely talks about – the human side. It shows Marx as the incredibly loving father, a very thankful husband, and an extremely grateful friend that he was in his personal life. Apart from that, the writer has described efficiently, Marx’s observation of the current social system, and disappointment at the fact that not much has changed since he died.
The director Manoj Shah, a maverick in the Gujarati theatre, has elevated the adaptation to a great level. The lighting is brilliant and really makes the effects of various scenes hit harder. Another interesting thing which the makers have employed is audience interaction. Throughout the play, Marx constantly interacts with the audience in the form of a random question, or just a demonstration of the existing capitalist system.
And that brings us to Karl Marx himself. By that, I mean, Satchit Puranik. Puranik plays Marx like one would imagine the writer of Das Kapital to be. He truly embodies Marx’s feelings towards various things the philosopher stood for and stood against. But, the thing that awed me the most was his fluent shift between languages. Puranik had to use at least 7 languages and dialects – Hindi, English, Gujarati, German, Marathi, Bengali, and the Parsi accent – and he does all of them with marvellous ease. This kind of élan is so hard to find on the stage these days. He has adapted, what one would assume, how Marx must have been like without even once sounding too over the top or falling short. He also surprises the audience with some decent singing, whenever he sings.
So who should watch this play? Well, honestly, the play is thoroughly enjoyable only when you’re familiar with Marx’s philosophies, socialism and the history associated with it. The uninitiated would find themselves lost in the play, even though the makers have kept things really simple and avoided jargon.
Karl Marx in Kalbadevi is as kickass as it sounds, and better! DO NOT miss it.