Remember how your social studies teacher in school taught you about the bravery of four martyrs: Ganga Lal Shrestha, Shukraraj Shastri, Dharma Bhakta Mathema, and Dashrath Chand.
Learning about the bravery of these martyrs may have inspired many of you to meet them. If that is the case, you can find them portrayed in the play Ganga Lal, currently being staged at Shilpee Theatre, Kathmandu.
While most of us have heard about the four martyrs of Nepal, many school curriculums only touch upon their stories superficially without delving into the details of their lives, struggles, and sacrifices. However, the Ganga Lal, directed and written by Che Shankar, aims to fill this gap, focusing specifically on the life of martyr Ganga Lal Shrestha, who was murdered by the Rana regime when he was only 22.
More than a martyr
As the play begins, on a full moon day, Ganga Lal, acted by Nirbhik Bhattarai, is seen assuming the role of Christopher Columbus. This initial scene might prompt confusion among the audience as they may wonder why Columbus, a historical figure associated with exploration, is featured in a play that aims to tell the story of Ganga Lal Shrestha.
This was a deliberate ploy by the makers as Ganga Lal loved acting and is known to have taken on roles such as Julius Caesar and Christopher Columbus during his youth. By showing this, the makers aimed to show Ganga Lal as a multifaceted individual with diverse interests and talents.
“Shrestha was also the youngest martyr and all these factors about him inspired us to highlight his story,” says Che Shankar, writer and director of the play.
In the sense that follows, Ganga Lal is seen in conversation with Dashrath Chand there they talk about overthrowing the oppressive Rana regime. It is clear from their conversation how the Ranas have tortured the locals and infringed upon their fundamental rights including freedom of expression, education, and others.
The strength of Ganga Lal, however, lies in its plot and the performances of its actors.
While there have been various theatrical productions addressing different historical contexts in Nepal, plays focusing on the stories of martyrs and their struggle against the Rana regime are rare.
This is what Ganga Lal has tried to do as it shows the struggle of the general public and sheds light on crucial aspects of Nepal’s past while also resonating with contemporary audiences.
The suffering that the general public went through during the Rana regime, is unimaginable for the people of contemporary times. If you were not a royalty or those close to them, you were not allowed to study. What was even worse than speaking against them could get people killed.
While Ganga Lal primarily focuses on the life of Ganga Lal Shrestha, it also illustrates the contributions of the other three martyrs. The play highlights that without the collective efforts of these four martyrs, the downfall of the Rana regime in the country would not have been possible.
Similarly, the production highlights the pivotal role played by Ganesh Man Singh in ending the Rana regime. The scene depicting the secret meeting between the four martyrs and Ganesh Man Singh, where they discuss their plans against the Ranas, adds an extra layer of captivation to the play.
There are 13 actors in the show and each one of them has done a commendable job. However, Nirbhik Bhattarai, who has performed the role of Ganga Lal Shrestha, steals the show. His powerful dialogue, in a Newa accent—which sounds very natural, deserves special appreciation.
Bhattarai’s powerful dialogue delivery will surely send shivers down your spine and ignite a nationalistic feeling.
The makers also worked hard in its presentation. The play’s simple setting with just a full moon above and fog transitions is visually appealing.
In terms of music, a recorded instrumental track accompanies the live choir performances by the actors. The rendition of Siddhicharan Shrestha’s poem Jiunu Haena, Marna Rojchu at the play’s conclusion is executed wonderfully, adding a memorable touch to the production.
Ganga Lal is highly recommended watch for everyone, especially for school students, as it will be a great opportunity for them to learn about the country’s history differently.
History is often viewed as a dull subject by many school students, but Ganga Lal is an exception. It not only recounts the country’s past but also educates people about the sacrifices of martyrs and what it means to be one.
Gangalal will run through January 12 every day at 5:00 pm at Shilpee Theatre, Battisputali, Kathmandu. There will be an additional show on Saturday at 1:00 pm.