On the one hand – is the commonly venerated figure of Mohandas K Gandhi, more commonly referred to as The Mahatma (great soul), while his assassin Nathuram Godse’s ideology is much more in vogue in contemporary India…
WRITER Anupama Chandrasekar appears cautious and perhaps you think that is only to be expected because her play is about resetting a narrative that casts the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi in a slightly different light.
And she is meeting us – the press about her play, ‘The Father and the Assassin’.
While this play is set and about India in colonial times – just before and after, it also addresses larger global themes, such as nationalism, patriotism, faith and totemic national symbols and narratives.
Director Indhu Rubasingham who commissioned the work and is something of a champion of Chandrasekhar’s work told www.asianculturevulture.com, along with other journalists in a roundtable discussion: “It was written for the National, and we wanted to make it speak to a multicultural audience.
“It’s about the rise of Nationalism, which is happening around the globe – and anyone can find an ‘in’.
“The war in Ukraine was just months old when we started rehearsing this last year.
“It’s like any good play, it’s specific in its context in what it’s examining, but it reveals something much more universal.”
For Chandrasekhar, the play is very much a meditation on what is happening in India at the moment with the rise of what is referred to commonly as Hindu Nationalism.
Chandresekhar, who was in the same roundtable at the National and alongside Hiran Abeysekera (Godse) and Paul Bazely (Gandhi), said: “It was around the time (2014) that a new government had taken over in India and the discourse and the temperature had changed and I was curious as to where all this animosity – this kind of extreme language was coming from. A friend told me you should write a play about it and that got me started…
“It took me all the way back to Pre -Partition and pre-Independence Days.”
The play looks at Godse’s background and traces his intellectual trajectory from optimistic anti-colonialist, who believed in Gandhi to disillusionment, anger and violent frustration with him – leading to Godse firing the fatal shots that would kill Bapu as he was affectionately known and – is still referred to as ‘father of the nation’ in official Indian literature.
Last time around the reviews were very positive and many found themselves feeling sympathetic towards Godse – the murderer.
This time around we have Abeysekera in the lead role – last time it was Shubham Saraf.
Abeysekera stole many hearts and won several awards for his role in the West End smash of ‘Life of Pi’.
Abeysekara, who was four weeks into rehearsals at the time of talking, said: “It’s a mammoth task and I am still finding my way through it.
“It’s an amazing experience and I love being in the room, I’m just sort of leaving the pages on the floor and sort of it’s like more in my mind now.
“The more I do it, the more I find the arc and the journey of this. I am getting there. The other day, Indhu pushed me to a place where she said: ‘Oh, now I believe he’s a person that can kill someone’.
Rubasingham said Abeysekara brought something different to the part – some actors are playing the same roles such as Bazely essaying Gandhi again, while others have changed parts and there are new actors too.
She said: “He brings a different energy to Godse. There’s a real danger. It’s really exciting.”
For Bazely, whose parents originate from Chennai in India, reprising Gandhi has been anything but predictable and he is acutely aware of how this play is challenging.
He said: “It doesn’t feel like – ‘oh well we’re doing what we did last time’.
“What’s amazing about this show and playing someone like Gandhi is polarising – some people are not happy with Gandhi in the modern world.
“Some people still venerate him as a saint but others venerate Godse.
“And what’s exciting about it is playing someone who is so well known opposite the person who is the star of the show and the person who killed him.
“I just think that’s really exciting – you often go and see a play or a film and you know what they’re on and it’s sort of really cosy, isn’t it? You go, and you feel, ‘I am with the good people’ but this play invites to go somewhere else and I like that.”
All pictures courtesy of National Theate/©MarcBrenner
‘The Father and the Assassin’ returns to the National Theatre from September 7 – October 14
Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 9PX.
More info/tickets: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/the-father-and-the-assassin/
Rubasingham is joined by set and costume designer, Rajha Shakiry; lighting designer,
Oliver Fenwick; movement director, Lucy Cullingford; composer, Siddhartha Khosla;
additional music by David Shrubsole; sound designer, Alexander Caplen; fight director, Kate Waters; casting director Alastair Coomer CDG, associate set and costume designer, Khadija Raza and staff director, John Young.