The Difficulty of Being Good

"In a society reeking with corruption and disorder, honesty cannot survive. So, if you think that it's been some time since you did a good deed, think again." This isn't Mallika Sarabhai, an actor, dancer and social activist, making a speech from a political podium — she contested the 2009 parliamentary polls as an independent candidate from Gandhinagar in Gujarat. This time, Sarabhai is talking about her new play, Ramkali, an adaptation of German playwright Bertolt Brecht's The Good Person of Schezwan, which will be staged in Delhi in August.

This is also the first time that Sarabhai, who plays the title role, is being directed by another Indian theatre director, Arvind Gaur of the Delhi-based Asmita Theatre Group. "Peter Brooke is the only other director who has directed me; we did Mahabharata from 1984 to 1989 where I played Draupadi," says Sarabhai, who co-stars with her son Revanta and daughter Anahita in Ramkali.

Ramkali follows an eponymous young sex worker who is advised by the Gods (read politicians) to "be good and do the right thing". The path of goodness, however, is littered with what the actor calls "systemic putridity", that makes virtue an impossible task. As neighbours, relatives and aquaintances devise new ways to exploit Ramkali's new-found goodness, she makes an innovative plan to counter them. Though Brecht wrote the original in the 1940s, Sarabhai calls it a "here-and-now play which tackles the issues of greed and the common good, and shows how social pressures and expectations drive individuals into the wrong path".

Not surprisingly, Sarabhai and Asmita have brought their political sensibilities and social activism into the play, peppering it with a number of songs and dances that mock the System. The dialogue includes references to the liquor mafia, corruption related to the Commonwealth games, and Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat. "We believe in entertaining people with theatrics and songs to keep them engaged but watchful, planting seeds of doubt to shake their complacency," says Gaur, whose last play co-directed with Sarabhai was Unsuni in 2007.

The play will be performed at Sri Ram Centre, Mandi House, from August 14 to 16.
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