Dissections on political dispensability | Sunday Observer

Dissections on political dispensability

 On the evening of September 2nd veteran Sinhala theatre playwright and director Rajitha Dissanayake’s latest creation to the stage –Nethuwa Beri Minihek had its opening night at the Wendt. The English title of this work is given as ‘A Man Much Needed’. What is interesting to note about the title is that it is not ‘Nethuwama’ Beri Minihek, for that would indicate indispensability as opposed to being ‘much needed’. The central character who plays a behind the scenes power broker in Sri Lankan politics is the type much needed, but not absolutely indispensable in the larger scheme of real life politics. This is a work that is resultant of the change in power dynamics of the State after the presidential election held on January 8. This reflects to a great extent the present climate in which allegiances are shifting and a game of ‘checkers’ is being drawn across the (political game) board.

The business community is an indispensable catalyst in the brand of ‘democracy’ that characterises the party politics that define our very system of government. We live in a culture where money can even virtually buy godhood. The dire need of party funders and campaign financiers who run the show from behind the stage is brought out through this play at the more provincial grassroots level. As proved through previous works, Dissanayake knows how to script dialogue and expressions that capture the milieu of how people ‘talk politics’ in their everyday lives.

Indomitable

And when Dharmapriya Dias who plays the central character named Jayantha says “Lokkata thibune pakshen ain wenna neme paulen ain wenna” (What the leader/boss should have done was not resign from the party but resign the family) applause broke out in mid scene as an irrepressible audience response of how that idea spoken by Dias reflected a strong vein of critical appraisal prevalent among Sri Lankans today as to why the seemingly indomitable Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the presidential election on January 8th. I do not by any means suggest that Dissanayake’s play directly makes value judgements on any politician overtly. In all fairness to the playwright, there is in fact nothing in the text of the play that states to that end. But then again there is no denying how art sometimes is meant to reflect and nuance what lurks in the collective psyche of a people at a given point in time.

This play brings out strongly the interdependency between politicians and businessmen and how between them, ‘ideology’ is at most times just a tool to mesmerise the masses. Today’s ultra conservative may be tomorrow’s radical liberal and vice versa in the game of democratic politics that are afoot today.

Napoleon is believed to have said ‘Power was my mistress’. But how committed are the likes of the thuggish politicking businessmen like the central character Jayantha to wield actual power of state where power itself is an end and not a means? Because, to one who seeks power as its sole end there can be no distinction between family, friend or foe when the path to power is obstructed. But the likes of Jayantha are the crude brand of capitalists who have risen from the trashy party politics that define ‘democracy’ today. To them politics is a means to fatten their purse. There is no ‘virtue’ to their violence as for a ‘cause’ to realise an ideal. They in that sense never become the classic politician that marries power for the love of power alone.

The end is sudden and almost abrupt. But it gets you thinking if you connect the dots that what has brewed up at the end is a crippling crises for Jayantha who wants to be an indispensable man in the power play called politics of State. How does one deal with a treasonous child, to whom paternal devotion has not been denied, although probably contorted into a domineering form of control, justified as in the best interest of the child? This play in that respect speaks of how politics may not always be inherited or bequeathed as typically as race, caste or religion.

Realist stage

In the fold of politics when one generation follows its conscience and it goes against the interests of the one that provided and nurtured them, where do loyalties between parents and children stand? And more importantly what is the price that one has to pay as a result of that conflict?

Nethuwa Beri Minihek also marked the debut of Bimsara Premaratne on the Sinhala stage, as her acting talents hitherto were seen in English theatre productions as well as Sinhala teledramas. Her talents as a singer were also revealed appreciably through her performance which I believe successfully evoked empathy as the estranged wife and mother who sought to reconnect with the children whose lives she could not guide as they grew up.

Stagecraft in this play was very much characteristic of Dissanayake’s style of theatre. Rather than saying it was outright minimalist I think the better way to identify its form would be that it leaned more towards minimalist than full scale realist stage set designs.

Nethuwa Beri Minihek shows a story grounded in the post war scenario where communal reconciliation is high on the purported national priorities of policy, while familial disintegration ripens among power players in the local political board game. Its subtext carries the question as to what has to be dispensed with when playing the game of politics if one is in it for the whole nine yards, and rolls the dice ‘for all the marbles’. It is an entertaining critique of our times. I have no doubt it will find much favour with theatregoers of today. 

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