Symbols and satireSanjeev Uprety’s Makaiko Arkai Kheti is a remarkable play
After spending one hour and fifteen minutes in Sanjeev Uprety’s histrionic courtroom trial, I came out of the theatre feeling inspired and elated. As a theatre artist, the things that I was exposed to inside the proscenium at the Theatre Village, Lazimpat were artistically and literarily captivating. Bimal Subedi’s design and directorial production based on Uprety’s book, Makaiko Arkai Kheti (A different cultivation of maize), is a finely executed Nepali play. The play takes us on a historical ride into Nepal’s socio-cultural and political past and again brings us back to the present. The play, which claims to be a reinterpretation of Krishna Lal Adhikari’s Makai Ko Kheti published in the 20th century, is a dark, satirical reflection of many ill practices present in Nepali society. And as an onstage production, Makaiko Arkai Kheti displays excellence in many theatrical elements, which can serve as a learning platform for aspiring theatre artists.
The basic premise of the play, Makaiko Arkai Kheti, revolves around an author’s search for freedom to speech and interpretations. The protagonist, played by Uprety himself, is convicted of doctoring the pages of Nepal’s socio-political history. He is further accused for plagiarising Adhikari’s original draft, chastised for demeaning the ruling system and ridiculed for negating the rights of various social groups. However, the author is adamant in his views. He tells everyone that his work is a simple explanatory book for the farmers who are growing maize, and it is something that elicits truths without any class-based, racial and social prejudice. These to and fro controversial verbal throws between the protagonist and the accusers, have been showcased in a fixed setup consisting of paper plastering, where the pieces of paper notes are allegorically used as the author’s voluminous writing. Most of the content of the play is expressed through symbolical texts and subtexts which is again a consistent rhetoric maintained by the play throughout its length.
By mentioning the mysterious burning of all the copies of the book Makai Ko Kheti by Krishna Lal Adhikari during the Rana regime, Uprety questions the integrity of the oppressors. Furthermore, Uprety also succeeds in establishing linkages between the past and the present by pinpointing the common factors that remain pivotal to the status quo and stereotypical thought process. The satirical presence of egoistic, ignorant and opportunistic people in the play depicts the darker side of society, especially in the context of hindrances to artists’ spontaneous and free flow of creation. Even through Pattu, a caged parrot in the play, Uprety metaphorically sums up the dire and helpless situation of his protagonist’s freewill. Regardless of all these sensibly placed allegories, the smoothness and simplicity of the play deserves much appreciation.
Besides the premise, which of course is the firm foundation of this play, the diversity and dynamism in the creation of characters, their usage and placement in the story is the highlight of the play. Just as in Ghanchakkar, Uprety’s previous book, the presence of unusual circumstances and unexpected characters makes the play gripping throughout its length. More interestingly, these characters are considered to be factual representations of our everyday lives.
Be it an opportunist, loudmouth advocate, a sternly critical Madhesi reporter, a self-righteous judiciary head, or a dependant house husband, the characters present a holistic as well as contrasting image of our social surroundings. That is why the play can be considered to be a perfect blend of character-oriented
and content-oriented storytelling approach. For instance, when a self-obsessive and hostile religious priest takes centrestage, the whole scene turns into a hysterical outburst.
The demeanor and dialect of the priest, which is so humorously striking and relatable, compels the audience to absorb serious issues through a lighthearted stage performance.
Apart from content and characters, contemporariness is also a crucial attribute of the play. The play’s ability to encompass pertinent issues like the constitution-writing process, Madhes protest, economic embargo and fuel crisis has made the drama more appealing and meaningful. Another integral asset of the play is its openness towards adaptability. The play, despite excavating the truths of the past and present, possesses immense potential in terms of perpetuity. The writing itself demands amendments and new observations as time leaps further. Even though the symbols might change and the issues and context might differ, the hardships and complexities in cultivating different forms of maize and other crops will remain the same. Finally, critically examining the outputs of various Nepali theatrical endeavors, so far there are only few plays that promise longevity in terms of impact and relevance. But as a remarkable exception to this list, I believe that Uprety’s Makaiko Arkai Kheti will definitely stand the test of time.
Paudel is associated with Sarwanam Theatre as a theatre artist and director