In my opinion, the play Ghashiram Kotwal is a breakthrough and an off shoot from the traditional Indian folklore and contemporary drama. The play is a bold venture into avant garde or experimentalism. Being the brainchild of Vijay Tendulkar, the play was treated with controversies when it was first staged.
The structure of the play is partly borrowed from musicals. The concept of folklore is kept alive as the Brahmins recite Abhangas and Lavani, interestingly being extreme binaries to each other – while one talks of devotion, another points to worldly love. The play is set in 18th century Pune, and is a cut throat satire on the power dynamics of the time, where the Peshwa exercised a hegemony of power over the state. The position of the Brahmin was revered and respected as the physical manifestation of God’s representative on Earth, from times immemorial. However, we get to see a subverted image of the pious, devout figure of the Brahmin as the community is seen having a gala time at red light areas. The playwright uses a sarcastic tone to unearth the promiscuity creeping into the Brahmin caste, with both sexes equally indulgent.
The protagonist, Ghashiram, who is a Brahmin from Kannauj finds himself gilded with a corrupt system where every person – right from the Brahmin to the lower classes are under the hawking eye of control of the Peshwa’s minister (in this play, represented by Nana Phadnavis who was a historical figure, much to the discontent and awe of the readers). The plot revolves around the rise of this man to the post of the Kotwal for which he’s not hesitant in prostituting his daughter Gauri to the lust of Nana; only to avenge the entire city of Poona which paves the way for his fall and ultimately death at the hands of the angry commoners. The end, however is not a form of poetic justice as the Machiavellian Nana is not once brought into question or subject to any kind of moral policing and continues to harass and exploit his people.
Tendulkar’s take on those in power was very much in tandem with how the music goes in the REAL world – where power and status can push your vices to oblivion.
Deputationist politics that spells out immense conundrum for the bourgeois and proletarians alike, is the star of the play with each character falling prey to the unbreakable web of fallacies and malice. Greed and lust for power intertwine together to create a glass house made of sins, and it is these sins that culminate to form the bathing abyss for Ghashiram, a man who outlives definitions of right and wrong and of morality and immorality in exchange for worldly power and position. This brings to question the epistemic fracture power has done to the human race and how it ruins families and renders useless all bonds of kinship.
The playwright also introduces a Brahmin wall in the play, which is used as a prop to take the play further. This play is an eye – opener into a system that is run by the goons and the unjust and brings to light the dark side of the revered ‘Brahmin castes’ in the sense that it recognises them as mere humans with carnal needs and desires.
Ghashiram Kotwal makes a bold remark on a society immersed from top to bottom in an undying thirst for status and the dynamics of power play, leading to volatile, uncontrollable consequences and as we know, a nascent megalomaniac must wear many hats before donning the service cap and shades of a despot.