Jana Natya Manch
Bolo Kya Banoge Tum

Bolo Kya Banoge Tum? is the story of a king and a slave. The king is the oppressor, the slave is the oppressed. The characters are stereotypical, and the situations, at first glance, are simple. Yet, as one probes deeper and deeper, we discover many layers, and many different ways of looking at the situations.

The story of the play moves through three episodes, each followed by a discussion with the audience. The discussion is conducted by the actors, and after an initial set of questions are posed by the actors, the discussion invariably takes a new route every time, depending on the issues that the audience take up, the responses they have for various questions, etc. The length of the discussion is also somewhat variable, but each discussion generally tends to be about 7-10 minutes long.

In episode one, the slave takes one mango from the garden he cultivates for the king. The king construes this as theft, since the mango was taken without his permission, and proceeds to punish the slave. And, to show that it is the principle that matters, not the amount stolen, he proceeds to set afire the garden – where the slave has worked very hard for a number of years.

This opens up questions: Was the king right in punishing the slave? Was he right in setting his garden afire? Was the slave right in taking the mango without the king’s permission? Since the slaves work but the king owns, does the slave have any right over the produce? And so on.

In episode two, the kingdom is visited by a fakir. The childless king wishes the fakir to bless him and the queen. The fakir, however, refuses to present himself in the king’s court. Instead, he happens to meet the slave, is enchanted by the beauty of the garden he has cultivated, and goes to his hut and shares the slave’s meagre food. The king is again furious, and punishes the slave yet again for not bringing the fakir to the king’s court.

Questions: Was the slave right in doing what he did? Was the king right in punishing the slave? If all that the slave considered his own belonged to the king, can we argue that in visiting the slave’s hut, the fakir was in fact visiting the king? Can we say that the fakir was wrong in going to the slave’s hut when he must have known that the king would see this as an insult to him? And so on.

In the third episode, the king, still childless, visits a tantrik who tells him that he would be blessed with a son if he were to sacrifice a girl child on the fifth day of her first menstrual cycle. The child finally identified is of course the slave’s daughter. When instructed to present his daughter to the king, the slave meekly gives in.

Questions: Was the slave right in handing over his daughter to the king? What other options did he have? And so on.

The last question: if you had the option, right now, to choose to be the king or the slave, what would you choose to be? Bolo kya banoge tum?