Remembering the Hero

Piyush Mishra on his 1994 play on Bhagat Singh, which he has recently revived

It has the usual high-octane dialogues, laced with patriotic fervour, that have for decades marked every on-stage or screen depiction of Bhagat Singh. However, what stands out in Gagan Damama Bajyo is its music. Composed beautifully and played on harmonium, guitar and duff, the songs help tell Bhagat Singh’s story a tad differently.

Songs, after all, are also Piyush Mishra’s strength. The 56-year-old is best known for penning lyrics for films such as Gulaal and Gangs of Wasseypur. “Everyone knows Bhagat Singh’s story. But the question was how do we tell it differently?” says Mishra, who wrote the play in 1994, when he was still practising theatre in Delhi. “When we started to sift through the available research, we realised everyone looks up to him as a hero but he was as human as any of us. We decided to focus on those details, like his friends, his love for music and rasgullas, his relationship with his parents,” adds Mishra.

His narrative looks at the lives of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru through the eyes of a former friend and comrade, Markand Trivedi. Trivedi gives up the struggle for freedom after the boys bully him for questioning their use of violence and blatant disregard for Gandhi. Carrying the hurt from that incident for decades, Trivedi meets surviving members of the group. However, 50 years after independence, he realises Bhagat Singh’s heroism and continuing relevance.

As he preps for the fifth and sixth shows of Gagan Damama Bajyo, which premiered in Mumbai at the ongoing Prithvi Festival, Mishra says he has been having sleepless nights. “It’s the nature of the medium; each show is a different play because the moments created or mistakes made during one show never repeat. But I am a happier man today than I have been in years because I have returned to theatre, which are my roots,” adds the National School of Drama alumnus.

While considering a comeback, Mishra was sure he wanted to work on something he had penned. And Gagan Damama Bajyo was “the right piece for the times we live in”. “We need a Bhagat Singh today because things have only got worse. We still live under rule, except that the colour of the skin has changed. I am sure that if Bhagat Singh lived in present day India, he would have again been hanged, this time under charges of sedition,” Mishra asserts, adding that the play has been denied space for performance in several venues across India. “It pisses off everyone because it shows Bhagat Singh diss religion and question Gandhi,” he remarks.

While reviving the play, Mishra decided to direct it himself. “There have been renditions in the past but none has matched the passion that NK Sharma introduced in it when he directed it. We created the play together, almost directing it while the writing process was still on. So I felt it’d be best for me to be at its helm this time,” says Mishra.

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