Gritty, ballsy, wickedly funny and politically effervescent, Mareech the Legend (MTL) is a cult hit in modern Indian drama. In his cleverly crafted play-within-a-play, Bengali playwright Arun Mukherjee draws parallels between different forms of human exploitation and power politics by transposing the action from a historic setting to contemporary times.
Mukherjee draws his energizing ideas from many sources, including the great Indian epic, The Ramayana. MTL opens by richly imagining the prelude to one of the most famous scenes in the Ramayana, the Mareech episode. Besides providing an intriguing character study into Mareech (the demon/master illusionist who took on the guise of a golden doe to assist Ravana in the abduction of Sita) this story also mimics more contemporary, relevant situations: like the drafting of American soldiers into the Vietnam war, and the psyche of oppressed Indian peasants who are manipulated by powerful, class-conscious, political bigwigs for their own gains.
And that is the great power of MTL – that while it is rooted firmly in the past, its link to the present is explicit.
Told with a mélange of dramatically different, engaging characters (Valmiki, Ravana, Mareech, Gregory and Macky – two modern-day American soldiers debating foreign policy et al.) all of whom refuse to let the play come to its logical conclusion by arguing with the soothsayers who string the narrative along with humor and song.