Muavazey, a Wild Rodeo Ride of Laughter
By Ali Hasan Cemendtaur

Stageplay Muavazey, produced by the theater group NAATAK, wrapped up its circuitous journey of the Bay Area last week. This writer saw the second last show of the play, and he was glad he did. Now, this is how working people should spend their Sunday evenings: watching a fun-filled show, laughing a lot, and getting recharged for the work on Monday. Look at it from any angle and you won't have anything short of superlative words of praise to say about the
production. It had been a while that this writer went to see a show so hilarious.
Muavazey's story is set in an unnamed Indian city that is frequently hit by communal riots. There are three segments of the society anticipating the riots and forming their strategies to profit from the looming murder and mayhem. First, there is preparation at the official level: both by the police and by the elected officials. Then there are the community leaders who are eyeing the imminent opportunity for posturing. And lastly there are the poor people who have nothing much to
live for. The standard Muavazey (compensations) of Rs. 100,000 to the family of those killed in the riots, and Rs. 150 to those wounded in the violence, given by the Government, are strong incentives for the poor to devise plans to benefit from the next round of a fray. Deenu rickshaw driver, who was wounded in the previous riots, is persuaded by his friends to get killed in the next riots, for the altruistic cause of aiding his family.

Scenes from the play “Muavazey

The anticipation and preparation of the riots lead to its commencement when a speech recorded by the Minister, to be delivered right after the riot gets broadcasted, by mistake, before the riots. The whole
story is a non-stop laughter prescription from the beginning to the end. The play ends with Jagga, the goon, deciding to get 'real power', transforms himself from Jagga to Seth Jagannath, and runs for the parliament.
Muavazey was directed by Sujit Saraf. Saraf, a very talented man, has been working hard in the field of theater since 1997. In Muavazey Sujit's exemplary directorship could be seen in the attention paid to the details: a small tape-player that would give the sound of the ringing telephone bell, hidden in a box set on the table; how acts would be kept dynamic all the time, e.g. how, during a long run of dialogs, a man sitting on the chair would be quickly turned ninety degrees to
face the other half of the audience, and so on. In between the acts there was no curtain to come down, or lights that would be turned off. Instead, at the conclusion of each act the set was changed by diverting the audience's attention to a chorus sung by marching, flamboyant singers (Amit Sharma, Sareeka Malhotra, Navjyoti Sharma, Shobhna Upadhyaya, and Sujit Saraf); concurrently the stage crew would quickly change the set.
The play was produced by Sareeka Malhotra and Manish Sabu. Their efforts in metamorphosing an ordinary hall into a theater - back row chairs were raised, partitions were
created to hide the props and the cast, and to produce off-stage sounds - are commendable.
Even with an army of performers Muavazey used, several actors played multiple roles: Vijay Rajvaidya was the police commissioner and Seth Ramgavaya; Navjyoti Sharma was the thanedar, Seth Bishandas, and Manglu; Rajat Sharma played the constable and the Gumashta; Harish Sunderam Agastya played the minister, Aslam Khan, and Kaka; Sujit Saraf was Saxena, seth Bhagatram, and Teja; Ravidar Chopra played seth Daulatram; Abhishek Das played Deenu and the Boy; Manish Sabu played Pandit, Seth Keshoram, and the supplicant; Monica Mehta Chitkara played Sulochanaji and Basanti; Shobhna Upadhyaya played Shanti and Seth Ramgavaya's wife; Amit Sharma played Jagga; and Jagjit Choudhary played the umbrella
Muavazey was a well-rehearsed play in which all the actors performed on a very high professional level. The lead roles played by Vijay Rajvaidya, Navjyoti Sharma, Rajat Sharma, Harish Sunderam Agastya, Abhishek Das, Ravidar Chopra, and Shobhna Upadhyaya were skillfully rendered. The most memorable among the cast was Amit Sharma as Jagga. Like all professional theater actors he was completely oblivious to the audience and had his heart and soul in the character he was playing. Amit Sharm is truly celluloid material.
Muavazey was written by famous novelist/short-story writer Late Bhisham Sahni. For those of you who are wondering how Bhisham Sahni was related to Balraj Sahni (of film 'Garam Hawa' fame), the two were brothers. That Bhisham Sahni could write on the ultra-sensitive issue of Hindu-Muslim riots in such a comical and non-controversial way speaks volumes of his greatness as a writer.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.