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June 12, 1999
Gandhi Godse Ignites Passion Across America
Banned in India, screams the line from dozens of newspaper and television advertisements across America where the Hindi play Gandhi Godse is being staged throughout the month -- and possibly through July, if the advance booking is an indication of the play's appeal.
"We have booked a theater with more than 1,200 seats for the June 26 show," says Babu Patel of the Neema Sari Palace near La Mirada in Southern California.
"There are hardly any tickets left except for the seats at the back." The more expensive tickets, $ 65 and above, were first to go, Patel says. "People want to have a good luck at Paresh Rawal," he says with a chuckle. The performance will be at the La Mirada Performing Arts Theater.
With just a dozen performances, the show could gross a hefty $ 500,000, theater insiders say. "People are treating this as if it is a Broadway show," Patel says. Even then, not many plays on Broadway gross $ 500,000 in two weeks. No Indian play here has had tickets marked over $ 65. Top tickets for hit Broadway plays such as Death of a Salesman go for $ 55.
"It is not just the subject matter and the curiosity about a play banned in India that is drawing the audiences," Patel says. "Paresh Rawal is a big draw here, and he is performing after several years." Rawal's previous appearance in Maharati was a big hit here.
Gandhi Godse has the backing of top Indian organizations and community leaders here. TV Asia is the exclusive sponsor while India Post, a news weekly, is the grand sponsor of the show at Spangenberg Theater, Palo Alto, on June 27. India Post has also touted the play profusely on its television program.
In California, the sponsors are C N Patel (grand sponsor), Swagat Restaurant and Advani Insurance Agency.
Many of the sponsors have not seen the play. They reject the suggestion that there is a political agenda in staging it. And they clearly believe it was wrong to ban it in India.
"If you think only the supporters of RSS and BJP will come to see this play, you will be surprised," says a promoter who did not want his name mentioned.
"This is a play for very mature audiences, and just because it was banned in India, it does not mean that it cannot be shown here. Even Girish Karnad (the playwright and actor) said banning the play was not the right thing to do," he says, adding, "This play is not like Salman Rushdie's book. It does not poke fun at religion."
For Babu Patel, the play is an exercise in democracy.
"Shouldn't we allow Godse, who at one time worshipped Gandhiji, to have his say?" Nathuram Godse was the man who shot Gandhi dead. "Don't we want to know why this man did what he did?"
Babu Patel says the audiences know that they are going to see a thoughtful work, not something that is exploitative or sensational.
TV Asia's H R Shah expects Gandhi Godse to be even a bigger hit than Ma Retire Hoti Hain which top-lined Jaya Bachchan. "This is very good theater," he says. "And like good theater, the play is very thought-provoking."
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