In the reams of stories that history shelters within its embrace, some go unnoticed. But eventually, when somebody takes cognisance, history gets a chance to make amends.
Theatre revivalist and Padma Shri recipient Mohammad Ali Baig recently decided to tell one such story about a few aspects of Kasturba Gandhi’s contribution to the freedom struggle.
Titled Kasturba, this play by Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation has been timed with the 150th year of commemoration of Mahatma Gandhi by UNESCO and the Government of India.
Set in Pune’s Aga Khan Palace where the couple were confined, it follows the events that unfolded in the two years of captivity. “While the Mahatma devoted his life to the cause of India’s freedom, Kasturbaji ably balanced their fight for the country’s Independence as well as their family.
A riveting aspect which should be an inspiration today, not just for women but for men as well, is that it’s possible to balance your work and family, without sacrificing one for the other,” says the play’s director and designer, Mohammad Ali Baig.
RK Paliwal, Director-General of the Department of Income Tax wrote it in a way to showcase a woman as the play’s hero. “With the changing scenario of ‘chairperson’, ‘cameraperson’, etc, the ‘hero’ in theatre and cinema should also shed its gender,” says Baig.
As he began preparing the blueprint of the character, he realised he needed to know much more than he did about Kasturba.
He launched himself into the study of the confinement period of the Mahatma and Kasturbaji at the Aga Khan Palace, post the Quit India Movement in Mumbai. “It is those two years that Bapu and Ba were together under the same roof even though they had been married for 60 years. She became one of the very few freedom fighters who passed away in confinement. Her samadhi lies there. I realised that it’s not just another play or a document on how she was an ‘important’ part of the Mahatma’s life, but important in her own right too,” says Baig, going on to describe Kasturba as a fiery lady, a devoted freedom fighter, and a caring hostess to ashram inmates of Sabarmati and Sevagram.
With this knowledge, his directorial endeavour took flight with a gusto.
Casting herself suitably into the mould of Kasturba is Rashmi Seth, who watched every video and read every book she could on Kasturba. “As a team, we decided to not wear wigs or artificial cosmetics because they look unreal. Instead, it was about getting to know Kasturba and in the process, internalising her mannerisms to look authentic.
Also, the protagonist is exactly my age in the story set in 1942. Hence, no makeup was used for me or for actor Vijay Prasadji who plays Bapu. Kasturba’s khadi sari in white with a red border and the tulsi plant that she carried everywhere did make me feel like her even during rehearsals.”
Set in the mid-20th century, the play brings out the human side of two people whose contribution to the freedom movement is enormous. What is also remarkable is how they stood for a strong family system that modern India can borrow from.
On: Nov 1; At: IHC
Director Mohammad Ali Baig’s supervision led to recreating of the Aga Khan Palace interiors, time period, ornate furniture and the makeshift jail. The background score uses sitar, table and pakhawaj. Kasturba’s red border sari, pallus and blouse styles of her physician Dr Susheela Nayyar and grandniece Manuben, kurtas and dhoti/pyjama style of Bapu’s secretary Mahadev Desai and sons Devdas and Harilal, are kept as authentic as possible.