Poha Gone Wrong!

Poha is Marathi name for Flattened Rice. In Hindi it is also called Chura. Poha or Chura is known for its light and digestives qualities and is often eaten for breakfast. In the North of India, Chura is normally eaten mixed with curd and some jaggeree. In South, for e.g. Mumbai, Poha is cooked with chillies, chopped onions, some potato and garnished with coriander leaves and eaten with Mint or Coriander Chutney (sauce).

So, when a Play is named as “Poha Gone Wrong”, one would try relating the plot with some cooking or any dish gone haywire. Makarand Deshpande’s “Poha Gone Wrong” has no likeness to any dish or Poha or the cooking of it. Nevertheless, the poha and the play does dish out some very significant thoughts.

So, how did Poha go wrong? Or what went wrong and why blame it on the Poha? Or is Poha a gateway to our understanding of something which is complex. Or is it an anchor which we need to moor ourselves first, and then look forth to explore the unknown. Let us see.

The story is based on two girls and one boy. The two girls, Pohankar Sisters, are from one family and the boy, Sudama, who has an unprivileged background, is adopted by the family. All three of them grow up together to adulthood. But their influences have set them apart in their understanding of the world. While the two sisters have common pursuits, like study and get a job etc., Sudama took a tangential life and went into the study of mythological books and astrology. As you can see, there is a parting in life’s ways.

Before we go deeper into this plot, we first need to know about Sudama and the significance of this name.

Sudama is the childhood friend of Krishna. While Krishna is from the royalty, Sudama is a poor Brahmin kid. Both strike a friendship. Both appreciate each other on what they are. With time they move apart but never go apart. Krishna becomes the Lord with a Kingdom to rule and Sudama goes for a hermit life. When Sudama goes through some financial troubles, his wife reminds him of his friendship with Krishna. (Some more shopping is it!) So Sudama journeys to Krishna expecting financial bail-out. Significantly, as Krishna is said to love Poha, Sudama carries Poha as a gift to Krishna. Krishna is pleasantly surprised to see his long lost friend and treats him grandly. Sudama is too stunned to ask Krishna for financial aid, but Krishna, intuitive as he is, fulfils Sudama’s wishes. Thus the story goes.

In the play, Makarand Deshpande plays the character of Sudama. Through reading of various books, subdued awareness of his own poor background, he identifies himself with the mythological Sudama and casts himself in his image. He too leads a Hermit like life-style and stays away from common pursuits. This Sudama, also has spiritual friendship with Krishna. This duality, that is, his relationship with the Lord and the ladies gets him into many misunderstandings. He lives with the hope that someday the ladies would understand him and his principles. Also, unlike the mythic-Sudama, this Sudama has some incomplete issues with Krishna.

The modern Sudama thinks that, mytho-logicaly, the author of Mahabharat did a great disservice to Sudama. The author of Mahabharat, Ved Vyas, exploited Sudama to project Krishna’s Godliness and Greatness. Sudama was Krishna’s childhood friend but the author of Mahabharat only dedicated just one episode in the entire epic and reduced Sudama to a non-entity. Though Sudama was very learned and had a class of his own, Krishna never gave due respect to this fact. Sudama feels discriminated that instead of him, Krishna chose Arjun to tell the Gita. Thus Sudama feels himself reduced to a foot-note and a side-show. Sudama feels that Krishna’s Sudama deserved a better deal.

Anyway, this seems heavy but the plot is transmitted to the audiences with great humour. One moment you are listening to some high philosophy and the next moment you crack up with laughter. It is a Play which has taken an elusive subject and referenced it with the present times. So a layman can understand it without much mental effort. The ever-presence of underlying comedy makes the heavy philosophical subject very palatable. On the whole it is a light and easy play-just like a Poha!

Pohankar sisters are played by Neha Saraf and Ahlam Khan (Amjad Khan’s glamorous daughter). Ahlam is the most vociferous of the two and disbelieves almost all of Sudama’s talks. For them, the world of Sudama is a make-belief filled with mumbo-jumbo. The characters are shown to have only vested interest in Sudama. For example, Neha wants Sudama to predict her future boyfriend. The maid wants Sudama to predict her husband’s death. Also significant is Ahlam’s boyfriend Raj Arjun, a TV actor, who gets impressed with Sudama’s character and wants to adopt that into his play. These all lead to some more consequences and comedy.

The play opens with Makarand Deshpande who makes his entry as Sudama and brings with him some Poha as a gift to the family. But he does not receive a welcome as was given to Sudama by his friend Krishna. The Poha had gone wrong as it does not fit into the changing times and relations. Krishna return-gifted Sudama with a grand house, but in this play, Sudama is asked to leave the place as his life and living were in sharp contrast with the other co-dwellers. But there are twists and turns leading to reconciliations and finally a happy ending and some more humour.

I saw this play after I wrote the article “Gita-As I Understand”. My article is a humble attempt to focus on the forsaken side of the Gita-Arjun’s Doubts. When the play, “Poha Gone Wrong” unravelled in front of me, I was pleasantly surprised. This Poha was mixed with love and garnished with philosophy and served with loads of saucy humour. It is a delight to watch a play and a different take on the subject of faith. It is very refreshing.

I love differing views as this enriches the subject. Further, it makes the subject relevant to the times. This is how, I believe, most of our mythologies has sustained through ages and tumultuous times. “Poha Gone Wrong” is a different take on an episode which, many may feel, as insignificant. We are led to focus on the grandiose. But there are many who pick up footnotes and make it notable. This was my first Makarand Deshpande play, and I already love him and his style. I highly recommend this play.