How a play on freedom fighter Dr. Usha Mehta came to life

Posted on 10 February, 2017 by Team Wishberry

  • Pritesh Sodha

It all started when I saw a hyperlink on the Wikipedia page of filmmaker Ketan Mehta. It read, 'He is the nephew of Gandhian and freedom fighter, Dr. Usha Mehta'. One may call it my ignorance that being a Gujarati, I did not know who Dr. Usha Mehta was. So out of curiosity, I clicked on the name to open what turned out to be a pandora's box of excitement. The words that hit me hard were - ‘Secret Congress Radio’ - an underground radio station which functioned for a few months during the Quit India Movement of 1942. The word ‘secret’ entices a theatre maker, one just has to discover it. And it enticed me too. So I secretly began my research on her and the radio. I am not a writer, but I do write concepts/stories to add to my first love of directing plays. I mostly conceptualise what I direct.

Now being a commercial Gujarati theatre actor, I get the opportunity to tour various cities of Gujarat. I made it a point to go to libraries of the city of travel during the daytime (as shows are mostly in the night) to find out more literature on Dr. Usha Mehta, as the internet and the libraries in Mumbai did not have enough material. To my surprise, many people I spoke to in those libraries, like me, did not know about her.

This made me realise that if I make a play on her it can be an eye-opener for many people in the audience who are interested in history and also since I had never done a historical play, Dr. Usha Mehta and the radio became the subject for my next play.

3-4 months of primary research and a sketch like screenplay was shared with Amatya Goradia, who went to direct the play with the Mithibai Drama Team, and he loved it. This gave me more confidence to write. For a few months, I was away from the subject as there were lesser tours happening and I was extremely caught up when in city with events and school cultural programs' work, which I do apart from theatre.

Amatya Goradia decided to stage something for IPTA competition 2016 and called me for the permission, to which my answer was a big Yes. Mithibai Drama Team directed by Amatya had many talented actors spearheaded by Mati Rajput and Dharmaj Joshi and and a very able production team led by Ishita Doshi. Kuldeep Gor came in with brilliant ideas of Music. Amatya with a fantastic title 'KharrKharr' (hindi onomatopoeia for disturbance in sound waves) Things looked perfect.

Another 2 months research and writing of dialogues, coupled with more information on Dr. Usha Mehta, courtesy her interview with Vaishali Trivedi at Akashwani made me confident about the staging for IPTA. As I started writing, I realised the importance of sub plots and how they are essential to get a story ahead. In the play, because of the subplot, one of the most important primary characteristics got life. Infact one such character trait of Ushaji was found accidentally by us as someone had seen Ushaji in her 70's and she told us that she used to walk faster than a teenager even at that age. One thing I learnt was to never underestimate or be lazy to find subplots while writing a play. Also, I loved the process of the characters shaping up. It's like being a mother and you see the child taking shape in a sonography test.

After the first draft, Amatya Goradia started the script doctoring, added value to it, and began the choreography with 43 actors. The play started building, brick by brick. Documentary on Bob Tanna, VU2LK, made by Abhijeet Pant also helped in getting the basics on Ham Radio. The play was finally complete.

We went on to win all the prizes at IPTA 2016.

We added scenes after IPTA and now it is an 80 minute play primarily in Gujarati (Hindi, English and Bengali are also used in the play). The last two words of the play has got the maximum applause - Usha is out from the jail in 1947 and she is home, as father is about to start the radio to listen to the ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech, she asks, "Sardar?", father replies, "Nehru."

We have done 8 shows so far and we would want to dedicate all the standing ovations to Dr. Usha Mehta!

About the writer:

A late bloomer, as some might call him, Pritesh Sodha left his corporate job at the age of 26, and dove into the ocean of theatre with dreams as big as a galaxy. After spending some time with street theatre, he moved on to work with Gujarati theatre legend, Manoj Shah.

His Gujarati horror play, Mancha, has also been done in Marathi named Tee, and is directed by Sodha himself. His other critically acclaimed plays include Made in America and Korat, both in Gujarati.

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