Chanakya, also known as Kautilya and Vishnugupta, might have existed 2300 years back, but his ideology is relevant even today. And, that is because Chanakya understood the power of people and how those very people can make the government or even destroy the country. And, bringing his ideology to stage are veteran actor Manoj Joshi and writer Mihir Bhuta. The duo has been staging the play, Chanakya, for almost three decades now. In fact, the play was recently staged on public demand at Dinanath Mangeshkar Natyagruha in Mumbai.
Manoj says he had dreamt of playing Chanakya ever since he read about him during his childhood. Speaking about it, Manoj says, “I learnt Sanskrit in school and knew about Chanakya, and the oldest play 'Mudrarakshasa' written by Vishakhadatta. Since then I had harboured this dream of playing the role of Chanakya someday. Then one day, my long time friend and writer Mihir Bhuta said he would write the play and I could play Chanakya. We researched for four years before staging the play almost three decades ago.”
Ask him what makes the play relevant even today, Manoj says, “The play is relevant today because the Arthashastra also speaks about corruption, and how demonetisation is necessary to curb it. It also talks about the importance of the welfare of the people. A person belongs to a family, a community, a society and the country at large. In fact it is the people who make or mar the country's progress. In the play too Chanakya advises Chandragupta to give up his personal pleasures and be selfless for the sake of his people. He reminds him that it was the support of the people that helped him establish the largest empire. I want more and more people to watch the play as it is gives an insight into how 'rashtra bhakti' is important, if we are united, nobody can destroy us.”
In the world of theatre and even films and television Manoj needs no introduction. In 2018, he was bestowed with the Padma Shri for his outstanding contribution in the field of theatre, television and films. Recalling about childhood influences that led him to performing arts, Manoj says, “My grandfather was a storyteller and father was a kirtan-kaar. People would listen to their narrations for hours at length with great attention. That was the atmosphere I grew up in, and hence the performing arts came to me naturally.” Manoj, a J J School of Arts alumnus, was working as a caricaturist before foraying into the world of theatre. “But, I realised that to sustain, theatre was not enough. Then I started doing small character roles in television shows and movies. But was not happy with that. And, that's when Chanakya happened,” he says.
Echoing similar sentiments, writer of the play, Mihir Bhuta says, “Manoj and I are college friends. We were in our 20s, and after reading over 50 books I scripted Chanakya. My play is inspired by Vishakhadatta's "Mudrarakshasa" and not based on Chanakya's 'Arthashastra'. It shows how Chandragupta Maurya rose to power and become the king of Magad with the guidance rendered by Chanakya. The dramatic pinnacle of the play is the scene in which King Dhana Nanda attacks and humiliates Chanakya for helping Chandragupta escape. Chanakya was a Brahmin and a man of principles and ideology. He explained to Chandragupta the importance of maintaining the goodwill of his people. Chanakya in the play is quite aggressive, unlike the version seen in the TV serial Chanakya by Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi.”