Theatre director Prasanna Ramaswami's latest play turns the spotlight on to the perpetrators than the victim

The play, This is My Name, gives us a glimpse into the inner workings of Nathuram Godse, the man who shot Gandhi 
Theatre director Prasanna Ramaswamy is all set for her new play This is My Name
Theatre director Prasanna Ramaswamy is all set for her new play This is My Name

History is often revisited, reinterpreted and retold, especially in our country. One such character in Indian history is Nathuram Godse (who shot Gandhi), whose story has been reinterpreted many times. Chennai-based theatre director Prasanna Ramaswamy has also picked Godse as the central character for her upcoming play This is My Name. The play offers a unique perspective from Godse’s side of the story, who, in the play, claims that he only performed his duty as a patriot by killing Gandhi. Adapted from Paul Zacharia’s novella Ithanente Peru, the 90-minute play opens with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the narrative goes through a series of soliloquies of Godse ranging from memory, defense, reasoning, and fear justifying his action to be right. Prasanna, who is a recipient of the Sangeet Natak Academi Award, has been rehearsing with her seven actors for several months in Alwarpet. We catch up with her for a tête-a-tête post a rehearsal.

What inspired you to adapt the original novella and turn it into a play?

I have been speaking about the politics of migration and war by representing the discourse with the voices of victims for many years. I was hoping to travel and crack it one day to place the perpetrator centre stage and reveal the origin, the other side of that violence. This play is just an add-on to my work.

What does the play convey through its narrative?
In a larger sense, the play highlights the bigger issues of caste and religion while turning the spotlight on to the perpetrators who are engaged in far more destructive procedures of dividing and killing people in the name of religion. There are two more intertexts in the play, one raising questions on the cultural output which has been used by the religious faith and another looking at how texts are turned into political equipment, both layering the discourse.

Actors during a rehearsal of <em>This is My Name</em>
Actors during a rehearsal of This is My Name

How is this play relevant today?

Living in times when secular values are under threat; to reinstate faith in multiple voices and the interdependency of people and faith in secular voices, is very important. And as the play turns the light towards the twisted and brainwashed mindset of an antihuman ideology, it shakes people into alertness, which I think is really important.

Do you think the subject of the play is a bit serious owing to the time we are in, as many theatre practitioners are bringing up comedy shows to lighten up the situation?

I don’t think a good comedy play is a bad idea. And well-made humour on stage is a very tough job. So comedy on stage too is a very serious job. However, I believe in opening a discourse and involving the audience to think and take back an experience to live with.

With the pandemic, many theatre directors have taken their shows to virtual mediums. Are you thinking along these lines?

Not at all. Theatre is a live medium. I believe only a video of a performance can be uploaded online and not the entire live performance.

What all can we expect from the play?

Apart from Godse’s character essayed by Sarvesh Sridhar and Nikhil and Darshan, there is an original score composed by Anandh Kumar and a triptych created by artist Gurunathan Govindhan. Anita Ratnam will be presenting excerpts of her dance repertoire while engaging with the Art and Faith questions dramatically. Dharma Raman and Sharanya Krishnan will be engaged in a section of song and speech with lights and a background score to support the complete production.

Today, 10 and 11 April, 7 pm. At Alliance Francaise of Madras.
Tickets available online.

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