Cotton 56, Polyester 84
During my visit to Bangalore, I was lucky enough to catch the October theatre festival at Ranga Shankara.
They play that I watched was titled “Cotton 56 Polyester 84″.
This play, written by Ramu Ramnathan and directed by Sunil Shanbhag, is one of the few outstanding plays I have seen at Ranga Shankara.
Cotton 56 Polyester 84 is a play that revolves around the lives of two former mill workers who have lost their jobs owing to the shutdown of the old mills.
Bhau Saheb and Kaka spend their time at a road-side corner, reminiscing their past and at times re-living the forgotten moments. To kill time, they play a game of counting the number of people wearing cotton and the number of people wearing polyester. At the end of the play, the count stands at Cotton – 56 and Polyester – 84. Polyester winning signifies the death of the old cotton mills and the victory of the new manufacturing units.
Within this game is intertwined the lives of Kaka, Bhau, Bhau’s wife and son, Kaka’s daughter, Bhau’s son’s girlfriend, Gopal Seth who is an opportunistic trader and Dharavi’s Bhai who runs the mafia involved with garbage collection and dumping.
For me, this play had many hard-hitting lines. The starting couplets that Bhau sings in Marathi provoke a sense of ashamed patriotism (I wouldn’t bother explaining that).
Kaka is a Muslim and Bhau is a Maharashtrian. During their conversations about the unions and the political parties, one learns that Kaka (inspite of being a Muslim!) was a staunch supporter of Shiv Sena and Bhau was a communist.
Bhau jokingly tells Kaka, “Bala (Thakre) Saheb didn’t know that you were a Muslim. Otherwise he wouldn’t have allowed you to attend any of the Sena’s rallies”.
To this Kaka replies, “In those days, it was not that bad to be a Muslim”.
The audience chuckled and I withdrew in a shell. Probably because I was watching the play with a Muslim friend?
The sensitivity of that particular line hit me hard in the face. It was that same feeling which I had got when I was acting in the Babri-masjid scene in my last play – Vision 2020.
Bhau and Kaka continue living through their past, living through their children’s deaths and living through their constant marginalisation by the ever-increasing rich society.
The play breaks away in many places into Marathi folk songs and dances. Bhau’s wife does the Lavni as she makes her entry into the stage. She is portrayed as a strong woman who even starts off her own kitchen to make ends meet when Bhau loses his job. She withstands everything from her husband being unemployed to her son’s death. I found her character one of the strongest portrayals of the strength and determination of the Indian housewife belonging to the lower class of the society.
If you are in Mumbai, you might be lucky enough to catch it at the Prithvi theatre.
Following are other reviews of this play (all links sent in by F via e-mail):
http://www.abillioneyes.in/cotton06.htm (Poster-picture obtained from this website)
Stepping away from the play and into the reality of the affairs, FreeIndiaMedia provides a good article here – http://www.freeindiamedia.com/economy/10_april_06.html
Excerpts from the article:
Such is the display of contempt for workers in Mumbai now that the very memory of the textile workers is being wiped out with the closure of textile mills and the destruction of even the physical structures of the mills that brought the industrial revolution to this country. Right in front of the Shiv Sena’s Sena Bhavan at Shivaji Park stood the Kohinoor Mill that was run by the National Textile Corporation
With the destruction of mills and the eviction of mill workers from working class areas that are now being gentrified and “developed”, the memory of the workers may now remain only through literature, drama and other works of art.
Come to think of it, the last time I was in Mumbai, I was trying to strike down pins at a bowling alley which was set up in one of the demolished mills.
Strike 10 anyone? 56? 84?