Exactly two months after alleged Maoist Arun Ferreira was granted bail, post a widely criticised four-year-long incarceration, comes playwright Ramu Ramanthan's politically-charged play Comrade Kumbhakarna. The Hindi play, inspired by the 2007 arrests of Ferreira along with Sridhar Srinivasan and Vernon Gonzalves, will be staged in Mumbai for the first time this Sunday.
Comrade Kumbhakarna was written in English towards the end of 2010. He wrote the play for Pune-based director Mohit Takalkar's theatre group, Aasakta, with whom he had worked on Kashmir, Kashmir in 2009. "It [Kashmir, Kashmir] was an incomplete script," says Ramanathan. "I decided, therefore, to write Comrade Kumbhakarna to compensate for it."
Oppression is what the play deals with, as it introduces a central character named Kumbhakarna, a member of a theatre troupe that enacts stories from the Ramayana. Born into poverty but high on self-respect, Kumbhakarna proceeds to subvert the mythological figures his plays portray, which leads to him being branded a rebel by the government, and his subsequent arrest.
Commenting on the parallels with Ferreira, who recently spoke out against inhuman police torture methods, Ramanathan says, "Democracy in India is only skin-deep. There are innumerable Arun Ferreiras out there, still languishing in jail. This is what Comrade Kumbhakarna attempts to show."
The play has been extensively staged all over North India as well as cities such as Bengaluru. It has received rave reviews as well as several standing ovations.
However, according to Ramanathan, this may just be the only show Mumbaikars get to see, given that the play, which has been travelling since last June, may be reaching the end of its run.