'Simplicity in Grandeur': Actor Rohit Roy, Director Mahua on 'Babasaheb' Musical

Backed by the Delhi government, the musical portrays several key chapters of BR Ambedkar's life.

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"As a woman, I feel I owe my freedom to Babasaheb, for he ensured the passage of those bills in the constitution that gave me space. I can stand at par with people around me, people consider me their equal," said Mahua Chauhan, director of 'Babasaheb', the grand musical on the life of BR Ambedkar, which is currently being showcased at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (JLN) in Delhi.

She, along with actor Rohit Roy who plays the titular role, squeezed out 15 minutes amidst the last-minute rehearsals that were underway.

"How do you play a role like Babasaheb Ambedkar in such a short span?" said Roy when asked about his first reaction after he was approached for the role, adding that he had initially refused to play the role.

Backed by the Delhi government, the musical portrays several key chapters of Ambedkar's life including his childhood, his struggles of being a 'Dalit' lawyer, his equation with Mahatma Gandhi, the Mahad Satyagraha of 1927 to allow untouchables to use water in a public tank and the formation of the Indian Constitution.

But what strikes and overwhelms you, in the portrayal of the life of a man who fought for the bare necessities of the downtrodden, is the grandeur of it - a 100-feet stage, a revolving 40-feet set, multiple LED screens flashing writings of Ambedkar in his own handwriting, aerial stunts, and multiple groups of actors, dancers, writers and researchers.

In a conversation with The Quint, Roy and Chauhan reflect upon the challenges, the grandeur, and the magnanimity of the portrayal of BR Ambedkar.


Rohit, what was the first thought when you were approached for this role?

I must say all thanks to them. We've put it up in record time. This kind of a production, with this scale, 30 dancers, 30 actors, narrators, music, song, dance, and interspersed with the drama bit of it, according to me would take a year to be put up. She (Chauhan) has managed to put it up in two months. She and the entire time have been working. And the biggest challenge was when you're playing Baba Saheb Ambedkar, how do you prepare for a role like that in 10 days psychologically. When I read the script for the first time, my reaction was no (nahi). The second time, boss, I said I have to do it because it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. I spoke to the people here afterwards. There are some students who've researched a lot on Babasaheb, they helped me. My homework was to lose Rohit Roy. If one person in the audience says that it's Rohit Roy, my preparation would've gone to waste. They should see Ambedkar.


Mahua, what was your first reaction when you were asked to direct a play of this scale on Babasaheb Ambedkar?

My first reaction was that my theatre career has been wholesome after this offer. Perhaps, we need Babasaheb more than ever in the present times, to understand the idea of the India of Babasaheb, which includes all of us. We read and perform 'Hamilton' all the time. It's based on the life an American reformist, but could we do something similar here? No one discouraged me at any point from attempting so. We've crafted the scenes in a way that they contain, if not a verbal, a visual message in the least. Our endeavour is to bring constitution alive on stage. There are incidents from his life which can shake you, and you wonder, how could one weather those? He couldn't be broken; you or I could've broken down.

Mahua, how do you look at the grandeur with which his life has been portrayed in front of the people?

Babasaheb was as grand as he was simple. His grandeur was devoid of any glitter. We ensured that the grandeur on display at the stage contained the same simplicity and Indianness. The stage is so massive, there are multiple LCD screens, but you'll not find anything that's glittery. Our scriptwriter, has in fact, written at one place how Babasaheb went to America but remained an Indian, and was a saint in the western attire.


Rohit, when you wore the costume, the spectacles for the first time, what was the first thought you had?

I'll show you either looks (shows the looks). I wanted to do it to ensure I look as close as possible to him. And believe it or not, yesterday when I walked out of the stage in the costume, I went in like 'Yo, wassup,' and I went out dressed up, and each and every actor was like, albeit in a hush hush voice, 'Sir, you look like Ambedkar.' But when I get into the costume, the Dhoti-Kurta towards the end of the show in the Jalsatyagrah you just saw, I really feel I'm there.

Rohit, do you think 75 years later as we're trying to celebrate 'Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav', we've realised the dreams of Babasaheb Ambedkar?

We all know that at some level it is, at some level it isn't. Because there are a lot of things which he had spoken and written of that ring true today. And when I do or see a play like this, I'm surprised that people react to each other differently—it's alien, the thought is alien to me. So I was wondering why didn't it come naturally to people? And I didn't know honestly, we've read reports that this is happening, that is happening, but still in 2022, that's the one thing that needs to be changed.

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