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Mahatma and the Music

Danesh Khambata, director of Gandhi – The Musical, on why Mahatma Gandhi’s life is well-suited to a musical with genres ranging from bhajans to dubstep

Written by Radhika Singh |
August 13, 2016 12:00:49 am
Scenes from the play Scenes from the play

Swaying hips, snapping fingers and jazz hands are probably not what one would expect as the opening scene in a play on Mahatma Gandhi. It’s set in a courtroom in South Africa, where Gandhi looks out at the audience from a stand. Bruno Mars-esque music swells, and a troop of brightly dressed dancers sashay on to the stage, turning somersaults and leaping off tables. “Take off your turban,” a singer belts out.

Gandhi – The Musical is being performed here, an original play with 19 songs directed by 30-year-old Danesh Khambata from Silly Point Productions. The music varies widely; in addition to jazz, there are bhajans, ballads, and broadway-style songs, all tied together with the sound of the orchestra. “Far from taking away from the seriousness of Gandhi’s story, each genre is meant to emphasise the emotion of a particular scene,” says Khambata.

Contemporary music has a place too. When Raj, a character voiced by Boman Irani, announces the repressive Black Act in South Africa, the beats of darkly toned dubstep reverberate through the theatre. “We didn’t want younger people to stay away. We want to maintain our relevance, and attract a more contemporary audience,” says Khambata, about choosing to include electronica. His decision to do a musical based on Gandhi was based on two things. First, he had always wanted to direct a musical, and secondly, everyone knows Gandhi’s story. But when Khambata started actually reading The Story of My Experiments with Truth, he was fascinated by the seeming irrelevancies of Gandhi’s life. “While on a boat, Gandhi unwittingly used soap with seawater to clean himself — believing it was a sign of the civilised — and got ringworm in the process. Human follies like that interested me,” he says.

The narrative of the musical departs from the text-book version of Gandhi’s life. “He never wanted to be known as a Mahatma,” says Khambata, adding, “I wanted to portray the more human side of Gandhi. Everyone focuses on the ‘truth’ part of the title, but not the ‘experiments’ part. He wanted people to know about his mistakes, his inner struggles.”

Gandhi – The Musical has been in the making for two years. It was a constant learning experience for Khambata. The sets, dances, music, lyrics, and scripts were also often revised; it was only a few days ago that Khambata finally settled on a closing act that “felt right”. “We built everything from scratch. I never knew what was going to happen next or what the final product would look like,” he says. Now, finally, it has come to life.

Gandhi – The Musical will be staged on August 13-15 and 19-21 at Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point, Mumbai

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