Singing Das Kapital
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Singing Das Kapital

Indian leftists are excited about the musical and believe they can produce a far better version of Das Kapital than their Chinese comrades, writes Manas Chakravarty.

india Updated: Apr 02, 2009 15:49 IST

Indian leftists are excited about the musical and believe they can produce a far better version of Das Kapital than their Chinese comrades. A party leader recently kicked off a discussion on how to go about making the play. “We know the text inside out,” said the veteran Marxist, “and we can easily write the songs ourselves.”

“We must stay close to the spirit of the book,” said a student leader, adding the performance could start with a dramatisation of the chapter on ‘Changes of Magnitude in the price of labour-power and in surplus value.’ Someone objected that it would be tough to sing that line. “What rhymes with value?” he asked rhetorically. “Glue?” asked a lowly comrade. A heated discussion ensued, till a senior communist said it made no sense to sing Das Kapital chapter by chapter. “There’ll be no audience left if we start singing things like ‘The Reproduction and Circulation of the Aggregate Social Capital’.” Most of the others agreed, although a lone voice insisted that Shreya Ghoshal could do it, if accompanied on the harmonium.

“We must adapt it to Indian conditions,” said a grassroots worker. The party leader said they must keep it simple and produce it for a mass audience. “For example,” he said, “we could say upper-class instead of bourgeoisie.” A Bollywood director who had sneaked into the meeting agreed, pointing out that upper-class rhymed with lass, which could be one way of introducing the love interest. A leftist director then suggested, “What if we have a proletarian young man who teaches Das Kapital to his fellow-workers, including several downtrodden women, who revolt and overthrow their oppressors, thus proving Marx right about the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. He can then marry a downtrodden one and live happily ever after.”

This was received with applause, with the Bollywood director underlining that the downtrodden ones should be good looking and there should be one scene in which they all frolic in the water in clinging wet saris, preferably pink ones. A cultural worker said that would draw attention to the commodification of natural resources under capitalism.
“We could start with a song that tells workers they have nothing to lose but their chains,” said a party hack. “Nobody would buy that these days,” objected an NGO-type, “we need to amend that to nothing to lose but your cell phones, your colour TVs, your national rural employment guarantee scheme.”

“Also dearness allowance, health insurance, pay commission arrears and office canteens,” added a public sector leftist. Another worker said the point about how capitalists exploit workers must be emphasised. A commotion then ensued, while a rural worker, who said they could draw inspiration from the Singur and Nandigram peasants who didn’t want to be exploited by capitalists, was ejected from the meeting.

A senior leader then asked the director to include the historic Third Front in the performance, because that would widen its appeal. Most of the workers warmly agreed the tie-up with great revolutionaries such as Mayawati, Deve Gowda and Chandrababu Naidu must be celebrated. A leftist professor pointed out that Marx agreed with Mayawati that the history of all hitherto existing society was the history of caste struggle.

Someone wanted to know what kind of dances they would have. “Nobody wants to see Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee dance the bhangra,” said the Bollywood director. “We’ll have to get professionals, maybe some exploited bar dancers.” The lowly comrade asked if they could get Comrade Kylie Minogue for an item number. Another wanted kung-fu.

At that point, the party leader intervened. “What we need is a dramatic ending,” he said. A left-wing Pavarotti fan pointed out that in opera, “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” “Ok,” said the leader decisively, “we’ll get Jayalalithaa.”

First Published: Mar 28, 2009 23:01 IST