Tuesday, May 5, 2009


‘Sammy’ directed by Lillete Dubey was staged at the Mahindra and Mahindra Theatre Excellence awards. Sammy is 'The name that shook an empire'. And judging by the standing ovations it received at the Shri Ram Centre Auditorium, it is leaving audiences touched and shaken.

The play is based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi. The beauty of the play is that it takes you through the journey of Gandhiji from ‘Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’ to ‘Mahatma’. It tells the story of Gandhiji’s life starting from South Africa to his death.

To explain the meaning of the word "Sammy", the title of the play, the scene dissolves into Mohan standing besides the Police Superintendent's wife Alexander who, a few minutes earlier had saved him from the mob. Mohan asks her if the crowd knew what the word Sammy meant. "Yes, of course. Most of our indentured labor comes from India and most of their names end in Sammy, Ramasammy, Narayanasammy, and so on." "The word is Swami", Mohan corrects her. "But that is not important at a time like this," says Mrs. Alexander. "But it is. Because it means master or teacher," says Mohan turning to the men who are standing about watchfully and says, "Thank you, gentlemen. I shall endeavor to live up to that." Indeed, a masterly way of explaining the title of the play.

In the play, Gandhi talks to, consults and even debates with his own ‘inner voice’ played by Ravi Dubey (back on stage after 20 years). The technique is not that new, but it is the way the playwright uses it and the way the two actors Ravi Dubey as the Mahatma and Joy Sengupta as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi project it, that makes all the difference. Joy Sengupta has performed the role of Gandhi to perfection. Especially, as the Gandhi in South Africa, he is flawless. Little wonder then, that he bagged the best actor award for this role.

The conversations with the ‘inner voice’ are simply great. They bring about the inner voice Ganhiji has referred to in his autobiography which helped him make many decisions. He actually turned to it for advise. .... "But how can an ordinary person like me tackle such a vast crowd?" asks Mohan. "Reach out to them, take away the blindfold and they will see...they called you Sammy," without completing the sentence the Mahtama (inner voice) withdraws.

The two-hour drama of Sammy takes a look at lesser-known incidents of Gandhi’s life in South Africa. The script is a veritable guide, which will make people learn — and unlearn — various aspects of Indian history and yet entertain. The cast includes stage regulars Vijay Crishna, Denzil Smith, Zafar Karachiwalla, Anu Menon, Joy Sengupta and Asif Beg.

Back at home in India the play touches upon some of the most important milestones in our struggle for independence like the Champaran agitation, the Dandi March, the massacre in Jalianwala Bagh, and the charkha as a weapon to fight the British. The pros and cons of the movement itself are discussed between the Mahatma (the inner voice) and Mohan.

The relationship of Gandhiji with Kasturba are brought to light by some incidents and dialogues. Important to note is the fact that Gandhiji was very direct and straight-forward regarding this. His vow of celibacy and the need to discuss it with his wife are also touched upon.

Neha Dubey, in the demanding role of Kasturba is like a breath of fresh air with her English showered with a Gujrati accent. She also portrays the later stages of the character’s life with the required change in body language and voice. She was my favorite in the play marked with stellar performances.

He had an effect on many Indian leaders of the time. The changes in Nehru and Sarojini are brought out quite well.

In my opinion the play suffered a little with too many black-outs in the second half, but those were inevitable to show different scenes. The set was done quite intelligently to aid this.
The play has some excellent repartees and evokes good humor too. It is an excellent and more importantly a memorable play even from the last rows of the balcony!!

(Partap Sharma's best known plays include "A Touch of Brightness", "Power Play", "Begum Sumroo" and "Zen Katha". He is also a novelist and no mean actor, who won the National Award in 1971 for his performance in Phir Bhi.)

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