Jo Chaho Ujiyaar: A Triumph of Bhakti… and Reason

Tulsidas reasoning with the mahants

Tulsidas reasoning with the mahants

The lights dim, a hush falls over the audience and the distinctive voice of Gulzar comes on the auditorium loudspeakers. Starting with a quotation from anachronistically- in a play about the 16th century Tulsidas- the great Russian writer Maxim Gorky. “There are very few good things on earth. What is good is to think about doing good things.” Or something to the effect.

When the curtain opens to “Jo Chaho Ujiyaar” I am struck by the elegance of the stage design. A large and deep stage split into three parts, the area on the left a hut, mostly Tulsidas’ residence, the section on the right a raised platform under the shade of a tree which alternately serves as a public meeting place in  a village; a chaupal, a dalaan, a worship place even as we discover through the course of the play. And the central portion, steps leading on to a large platform representing alternately Varanasi town or the famed ghats of Varanasi. Clean and dramatic, that set design.

One would have expected Tulsidas to enter early in the play, but all we see in the beginning are villagers and their struggles and vicissitudes in life. This quickly establishes the status of the exploited common villager. Very critical to the development of the idea that was Tulsidas. More about that later. The entry of Tulsidas happens a little later, so well conceived. The stage dark, a glow of golden-yellow spot on Tulsidas standing on the central platform. With the song “Bar dant ki pangati” playing in the background. The young Tulsidas ready to unleash his magic on the world.

What follows are the conflicts he has to face. The mahants of Kashi thunder as to how he could do the blasphemous act of narrating the story of Shri Ram in the commoners’ language! The hidden sub-text is that Tulsidas is taking away their command over the populace by narrating the scriptures not in Sanskrit but in Avadhi, the common village householders’ language. And there is also a sub-sub text to the clash between the Kashi mahants, who are traditionally Shaivites (Shiv Bhakts) with the Vaishnavites, the Ram bhakt followers of Tulsidas.

Multiple intrigues and sub-plots later, the denoument is reached with the arrival of then Delhi emperor’s- Akbar’s- emissary who congratulates Tulsidas for spreading religiosity among the people. He also presents him a boxful of “Ram-Siya” coins which Akbar has specially minted to express his solidarity with Tulsidas’ mission.

What some may miss out on in this intricately woven story is the relationship which Tulsidas shares with the two most influential persons in his life- both women- one his mother and the other his wife. The mother appears on stage only in flashbacks. The relationship between the mother and the son is tender and loving. The background score of “Ram, haun kaun jatan ghar rahihon” when Tulsidas is conversing with his -now deceased- mother is so poignant that can not help but cry. And the beauty is that the roles of the son and the mother are reversed when the scene is being enacted. The son become the mother and vice versa.

Ratna counselling Tulsidas

Ratna counselling Tulsidas

That Ratna, Tulsidas’ wife, was a strong influence in the poet’s life is very strongly established. In a quirk of fate, the young Ratna is her husband’s soulmate only for a few years. Her demise is fleetingly indicated in a touching scene when Tulsidas is told that she may have drowned while trying to cross the river in a stormy monsoon flood. Ratna was on her way to her maika, to celebrate the saawan month. But even in this relatively short period she has had a telling influence on the course of Tulsidas’ life. Ratna’s ghost appears some thirty years or so later, to reassure the reformer Tulsidas’ that his chosen path in life is correct. The parting of Tulsidas and the ghost of Ratna is very touching. Very inspirational for Tulsidas as she exhorts him to carry on his mission of taking the scriptures, and indeed the Hindu way of life, to the masses. To the grihasth, the common householder.

And all this grand action is highlighted by the most wonderful Tulsi sangeet you would ever hear. Some of the best pieces of Tulsidas have been selected, right from the “title song”, “Ram naam mani deep dharoon…… jo chaahas ujiyaar” from Ramcharitmanas, to stanzas from his other celebrated works like Vinay Patrika, Geetavali, Kavitavali. Tulsi “pads” like “Tu dayalu deen haun”, “Kou udaar jag mahin”. Hanuman chalisa is there of course. And his famous stuti to Shiv, “Namami Shamishaan”. Namami has been composed to a pulsating, nearly war-like beat which I had never heard before. In fact I have even heard a version in a recent film called “Dharm” which is sung as a lullaby! But in the context in which this is used (the confrontation between the mahants and Tulsidas) in the play, it seems to be most apt. . Ditto with Hanuman Chalisa. Very different compared with the various versions I have heard. And many, many more songs. Folk songs, mantras, even an old recorded piece of Kumar Gandharv. And yet another recorded dhrupad of Gundecha brothers.

The songs are sung by none other than the celebrated Pune-based Hindustani classical vocalist Sanjeev Abhyankar, the one who received the national award for the best playback singer for his very first Hindi film song way back in 1998. A voice of someone who is in complete control of the octaves, a voice suffused with supreme devotion. And guess what this great singer told in the press conference! He said that all the credit for the success of this music should go to Anshu (the man behind this project), as it is his passion which shows up in the final music. What humility on part of this great singer!

This music is superbly composed by the music director, Hem Singh, who is little known outside the Lucknow circles. But this gentleman has done a wonderful job. I met him before the play and complemented him on his work. I told him what I felt, “kaljayi kriti”, a work which transcends time.

And the celebrated sound designer, K.J. Singh? I have no competence to judge, or even figure out, what he has done. But I do know that he has put together one of the best musical compositions ever. And this jolly sardar from Mumbai, the guy who too is a national award winner for his sound engineering for Omkaraa a few years ago, was confabulating with the auditorium sound guy till the last minute before the play started. Giving them appropriate suggestions, I suppose. And KJ also took Anshu’s family, and me as a hanger-on, for a late, late dinner that evening. Chatting with Anshu all the while as to what all he needs to do before the next staging.

Tulsidas narrating Ramkatha

Tulsidas narrating Ramkatha

And in this thing about great music it would be naive to forget about the performances given by the actors. That the actor who plays Tuslidas, Varun Tamta, has entered the soul of his character is undoubted. The effortless ease with which he straddles the stage playing a 30-year old Tulsidas in act one and then in act two, Tulsidas at 60 years and beyond is enthralling. Tulsidas narrating Ramkatha to the common men in one scene, reasoning with his detractors in the other, a husband in the third and a son in another. The pains and struggles of Tulsidas, and his innate humanness, all reflects so clearly on the actor’s face and movements. The strong counterfoil to Tulsidas is his young wife, Ratna, played by Manisha. A simple village girl with a mind of her own. And an ability to engage someone of the stature of Tulsidas as an equal. Strong, yet loving. The tenderness of the relationship is well brought out by the director.

The director duo of Parijat Nagar and Suresh Lahri have put this large cast together to weave an altogether enthralling story. A story which seems very relevant even today. The story of reason versus religious bigotry. A story of the voice of sanity among the cacophony of maniacal cries.

What about the man behind the show, Anshu Tandon himself? Well, he was seated between his wife and I, and “enjoying” the show. He was hoping I would not notice his tears, as I hoped he would not notice mine. We both kept our hankies ready, but at strategic distances from our respective eyes.

And Mr M Gorky? Well, his words were prophetic. True, there are indeed very few things good on earth. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I must say Jo Chaho Ujiyaar is one such. And Anshu is one guy, who keeps thinking about good things, and sometimes doing some great things.

Take a bow Anshu!

PS: 21st Jan 2010.

Anshu has posted a “trailer” on You Tube. Here is the link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcEpmkLZXLw

13 Responses to Jo Chaho Ujiyaar: A Triumph of Bhakti… and Reason

  1. Vijay Mehta says:

    Have no words to describe Anshu’s accomplishment. Heartiest Congratulations !

    Definitely it’s a gigantic milestone in ones life. I commend him for all his dedication and hard work & hope that he will enjoy its rewards for years to come.

    And, as usual Santosh, it is your eloquent script that brings to us the details of the spectacular event – neatly woven in your style with appropriate annotations at the right places – a feeling of actually being there.

    Keep it up ..

  2. Amit Das says:

    Read it Santosh, it has come out really well, covers almost all the aspects of the play..each para is interesting and generates real excitment to read the next para..try to stage the play at Bangalore for the benefit of all…Amit Das

  3. Anshu Tandon says:

    That Santosh is an old friend, is known to all. But that Santosh also directed me each time I went on stage during BHU-IT years, is a fact only few would know.

    In the perspective of the latter fact, Santosh’s critical appraisal becomes significant. More so, bcause I have maintained all these years, that I owe as much to my colleagues as to the institution. Each star that permitted me in its orbit had enough intellectual mass to keep me enthralled till date. Those four years at BHU-IT were spent playing catch-up. Most of the time I could only manage a ride on their tail-coats.

    So more than any pat on the back from reviewers of the national media, what I treasure most is critical appraisal of my peers. For I know the depth of their knowledge.

    As you have appraised the actors, I need to reiterate that any idea is as good as its presentation. If that was a good show on the evening of July 6, then it is the crew viz Suresh Lahri, Sanjeev, KJ, Hemji, Varun and others that need to be complimented.

    Like any other mortal, I crave praise. It is an occassion to celebrate if a BHU-IT colleague finds my presentation par for the course. This case is even more special bcause I learnt stage craft under you, Vipravar.

    One thing is sure, I can safely weigh myself in the next couple of days. Right now I am too pumped up to weigh any thing. Thank you, Santosh. Thank you all colleagues at BHU-IT. No matter how pumped up, I still look up to you.

  4. vijay sambrani says:

    Santosh,

    Very well written as usual.

    Pls congratulate Anshu on this marvellous effort.

    I wish I had been there .

    vijay

  5. Arush Tandon says:

    I think I have much to learn before I can pass any comment on a project as profound, as magnificient and yet as simple as “Jo Chaho Ujiyaar”. I would only say that this blog and its associated comments have helped me a great deal in forming an opinion about the play. Till now I was completely blank and had no clue whatsoever about how it went. I least expected THIS reaction from myself.This is where Chacha and his blog have come to my rescue. It seems that “Jo Chaho Ujiyaar” is indeed here to stay and create ripples in the entertainment world.

    Lastly, if at all the play was as good as written about, the credit goes to one man more than my father, Tulsi baba himself. Because whatever the actors ACTED on stage, he DID that.

  6. G.Mohan says:

    Santosh,

    Thanks for writing this review. Feel like watching the play, whenever an opportunity comes my way.

    Anshu – Great work. Keep it up !

    Mohan

  7. Sanjay Garg says:

    Dear Anshu,
    Congratulations on the magnificent effort. You deserve all the accolades you are receiving and I am proud to be a part of BHU-IT where it all developed for you. Your passion and energy is reflected through the excellent narration of Santosh and I wish you and you the entire team many more such success in the years ahead.
    It’s a pity I have not been able to see the play but hope sometime in the near future, I shall have that privilege.
    Sanjay

  8. Rajiv Narang says:

    Dear Anshu/Santosh

    You guys impress us more and more every day that we were lucky enough to spend time during the same era at IT-BHU.

    Santosh, you are such a wonderful writer. Most times most of us do not get a chance to appreciate what you do for us. By the time I read your narration including the trip to Varanasi with pictures, I am with tears and don’t have the right words to appreciate what you do for us. Thank you for being ‘eyes and ears’ for all of us.

    Anshu, I am so impressed that between all your regular mortal tasks, you get time to create such wonderful things in life.

    Congratulations again. We wish you success in more such future endeavors.

    Regards
    Rajiv

  9. dakshita says:

    Dear Santosh,

    Considering that it all started with your blog it is befitting that the grand summing up too should be on this platform!!!Let me also add to your immensely evocative write-up.

    I have already expressed my feelings on the play to you and would want to re-iterate the fact that it came through as a slick,well though out,well enacted show.The music was mind blowing, the acting was powerful.But most of all what struck me was how little I knew of Tulsidas.He has all along been the creator of a powerful book but that was all.Coming into contact with what would perhaps be the closest to flesh and blood triggered deep emotions. I’ll confess that I am now net surfing wanting to know more and more about him….

    So, that has been the power of the play.

    Congratulations to all!!!!I hope to see the show when repeated in Delhi.

    Dakshita Das

  10. Shaswati says:

    After reading your previous blog on “Jo Chaho Ujiyaar” i was eagerly waiting for this one…. wanted to know how the final staging of the play went on 6th July…… Well, i am glad to know about the success of the play.
    Your detailed narration has as if brought it live to all the readers…And after reading about the play i am now craving to listen to those Tulsi bhajans sung by Sanjeev Abhyankar.
    However, regarding that project you assigned to me… i am still searching for a recording studio in Bangalore. Contacted a couple of them but no one really responded very well. I am still trying ,,,,lets see..

  11. santoshojha says:

    Vijay Mehta: That was a quick comment! Thanks a lot.

    Amit: Thanks, yes, if all goes well the play should travel across the country, including Bangalore.

    Anshu: Do set aside your usual modesty at least for once. You have done a wonderful job, and is for the entire world to see!

    Vijay Sambrani: Anshu will be very pleased with your wishes. Thanks.

    Arush: So now that is what a chacha is meant for!!! Jokes aside, I suppose you had been so intimately involved with this project that you perhaps needed a third person’s views to confirm what you knew all the time: this is a marvellous creation.

    Mohan: Thanks a lot. Hopefully you will get to see the play when it travels to Hyderabad.

    Sanjay: Totally agree with your views on Anshu’s effort.

    Rajiv: Thanks for your kind remarks on my writing. Do write-in once in a while.

    Dakshita: Thanks. You have mirrored my thinking as well; Tulsidas was a lot more than the author of the thick cloth-covered book lying around in the puja room at home!

    Shasawti: You will love the music, even untrained ears like mine adore it. As regards the project I assigned to you, I shall keep at it till you actually record some stuff!

  12. Milind Chalisgaonkar says:

    It’s amazing that Anshu manages to keep his creative juices flowing, while managing his business. Way to go..

  13. Milind Chalisgaonkar says:

    Santosh – thanks for reporting so well on the event. It has only increased my desire to see the play, hope it’ll come to Bangalore very soon.

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