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Pre-Independence flashback

`The Roti Rebellion', with its strong emotional elements, portrayed the spirit of the First War of Independence



SOLDIER AND SAGE Mohammad Asim Afzal as Mangal Pandey and Geeta Shyamsundar as the sanyasin gave searing performances

Looks like hot-blooded mutinies are the flavour of the season. There is Shyam Benegal and his Subhash Chandra Bose making waves besides Bollywood hotshot Aamir Khan's creation, The Rising. And Mangal Pandey seems to be the man of the moment. The fiery protagonist of The Rising, Pandey was also the central character in a play organised by Sparsh - The Moving Theatre at Andhra Saraswat Parishad on Sunday.

Titled The Roti Rebellion, the play impressively captured the spirit of the First of War of Independence in 1857 with intense dialogues and soulful acting. The play opens with a conversation between a British officer and a sanyasin, who goes by the name Bharati Maa. The duo discuss the uproar over the introduction of the controversial Enfield rifle by the British army. During the time, there were rumours that the cartridges used in the new rifle were greased with the fat of cows and pigs. A bhumihar Brahmin by caste, an angry Mangal Pandey, superbly portrayed by Mohammad Asim Afzal, refuses to use the cartridges saying that doing so would defile his caste and religion. This leads to an altercation with his commanders and he opens fire at two British officers.

Even as the British officer talking to Bharati Maa brands Pandey a traitor, the sanyasin gives an eyewitness account of all the events that happened in Pandey's life during and after the incident. With petromax lamps for the lighting and good use of costumes, the scenes successfully recreated the situation and the mood during that era.

Matter of motivation

The sanyasin's interaction with Mangal Pandey in his cell reveals Pandey's motive behind opening fire at his officers. Interestingly, the play's title is derived from the rotis that were used to spread the message of the revolt. This plan to use rotis was chalked out by Pandey and the sanyasin in the cell.

Aiming to give a true historical perspective of the incident, the play highlights the imperialistic and racist attitude of the British but also shows their humanitarian side. This is evident in the scene where Sergeant Major Hewson (played by Paul Vinay), one of the officers who was shot at, tries to save Pandey from the gallows by feigning ignorance about the shootout. In an earlier scene, Hewson is shown pleading with Pandey to part with information about his "comrades" and save his life. Both address each other as brother.

The play also dwelt on the spirit of sacrifice through the emotions of Pandey's wife Saroj (with Sejal Ghia in the role). Saroj believes that her husband is giving the ultimate offering of his life to the Gods. The dialogue delivery was powerful and the scenes had strong elements of emotion that held the audience's interest.

Geeta Shyamsundar as Bharati Maa, Nikhil Seshadri as Judge Hearsey, Gurudatt Pai as officer Wilson and Piyush as the guard came up with good performances. The lighting was done by Neville Rodricks and costumes were by Jasmine and Jevina Singh. The play was written and directed by Supriya Karunakaran.

K. SACHIDANAND MENON

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