By Varsha Ramachandran
Director: Manoj Shah
Writer: Uttam Gada
Artist: Satchit Puranik
Rangashankara, Bangalore, Friday 29th June, 2018
The play’s title Karl Marx in Kalbadevi perhaps summarizes the play better than any critic could — the renowned political theorist Karl Marx speaking to the audience from the bustling neighbourhood of Kalbadevi. It is a brilliant adaptation of Howard Zinn’s Marx in Soho, written in 1999. Zinn’s creative production depicted the lionized philosopher as an ordinary human being, struggling to make ends meet to support his family in a time of political crisis. The play was set in the Soho district of New York, owing to Marx’s own life in Soho, London.
Karl Marx in Kalbadevi takes Marx out of Zinn’s American setting and places him in the crowded streets of Kalbadevi, in the city of Bombay, where no one has the time or the inclination to listen to the ‘high funda’ philosopher that Marx has come to be regarded as today. The narrative behind this quirky placement is that Marx, 160 odd years after his death, tired of being villainized for ideals he never advocated, comes to India hoping to clear his name. He goes to Bombay’s Mani Bhavan with plans to deliver a public speech but is comically turned away by the guard due to the new stringent timings of the museum. As the philosopher turns back in defeat, he meets Manoj Shah, the director of the play, who gives him 90 minutes of stage time to redeem himself with the sole condition that he gives the audience what they desire – entertainment. As promised, Manoj Shah’s play delivers precisely that which was promised to him by Marx; with the glorified icon Karl Marx rapping in Hindi to the lilting tunes of Psy’s Gangnam Style and ranting about his terrible experience with the ginormous Bhagat Tarachand Thali he was forced to endure by Shah, the play guarantees 90 minutes of straight up entertainment.
The play follows Zinn’s attempt to bridge the gap between the academic Karl Marx and the ordinary family man Karl Marx. With Satchit Puranik looking surprisingly like Marx himself, bumbling around the stage wearing a t-shirt sporting Gandhi’s picture and wreaking havoc with his large number of props, the audience begins to relate to the character on stage and Marx is slowly lowered from the elevated platform on which he is thought to stand. The plot revolves around Marx narrating to the audience the story of his life, family, friends and most importantly, his ideas of political economy. Shah uses ideas familiar to the Indian audience, ranging from Rahul Gandhi’s education to the BJP election slogan to what he calls Gandhi’s ‘perverse communism’, to communicate the essence of Marx’s philosophies. Marx narrates the story of his poverty stricken, practically nomadic life and paints vivid word images of his wife Jenny and his daughter Eleanor.