This Badal Sarkar classic has always intrigued me – the four distinct tales that make "Pagla Ghoda" are poignant. The love is forbidden, and the end is inevitably tragic. The men are total losers who hide their immense sense of loss behind a mask of routine life. However, what intrigues me the most about the play is why on earth I don't hate the four absolute sons of bitches who have nothing better to do in life than to get drunk and play cards over the dead body of a young girl who they don't even know much about!
Shouldn't these four pathetic men evoke disgust in us? Shouldn't we hate them so much that we want to curse them by the end of the play?
Strangely we don't! And, that's where the power of Badal Sarkar's magnificent writing lies. It's not a usual stuff about heroes and villains. The master playwright won't leave it at just scratching the surface. These four pathetic men are the mere representatives of a system that makes them who they are, and that brings death upon the women who are eloquently present throughout the narrative by their powerful absence. The real villain of Pagla Ghoda is patriarchy, and the men of Pagla Ghoda are as much the perpetrators as the victims of the wretched system.
What made me absolutely fall in love with the sumptuous screenplay of Pagla Ghoda is the way Badal Sarkar makes silences speak, and absences weigh upon the present.
What a potent setting it is for a magnificent drama - four men assemble to cremate the body of a girl who they apparently neither know nor care about; and how powerful it is that the play belongs as much to the absent women as it does to the men who are constantly there.
To keep it close to the original, I have set the play up in the past. The setting, the costumes and the warm tone all combine to make us believe that it's a story set in the past. It's no longer our story; it's a part of history. But it isn't! Nothing has changed much since Sarkar wrote the play in the mid-sixties.
The forces at play in Pagla Ghoda, namely the patriarchy, have only grown stronger with time. In an ever changing world, the idea of masculinity still holds weight especially when our prime minister thumps his chest and brags about its size, when "Bahubali" breaks all box-office records and when military power is often confused with the strength of a nation.
Interestingly, it’s also the times when the society as a whole spends a lot of time and resources defining the rules of engagement in the matters of love. What else can justify the mainstream socio-political obsession with campaigns such as "Anti-Romeo squads" and "Love-Jihad" with the support of the political dispensation that rules our country?
Sadly, patriarchy isn't a thing of the past yet. On the contrary, it has emerged only stronger.
Badal Sarkar writes the male characters with as much empathy as he writes his women characters. Everybody is a victim. Everybody is a loser. The difference lies in the extent. Men are still alive but are bruised and battered. Women are dead. Men can still talk, but women have lost their voice. Men can still pretend to be merry-making, drinking, gambling but women are always on the verge of a breakdown.
In a letter to his sister Manu, written on February 21, 1967, Badal Sarkar wrote, "Pagla Ghoda would be one of my favourite plays. I find myself fully immersed into its world while writing it. The only other play which possibly had this effect on me was - Saari Raat."
Half a century later, when the new-age audience can watch the play on a digital platform, I can only hope that I've been able to do justice to the spirit of the play. Do watch it and let us know if we have been successful.
Pagla Ghoda is now showing on HotStar