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The Way Of The Soldier

Tuesday, July 25, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

In Gujarati theatre, 'Code Mantra' has proved to be a clutter-breaker. It has been a huge success inspite of being very different from other plays running in the city’s theatres.

Playwright-actress Sneha Desai wrote a serious play called 'Code Mantra', set against the background of the army, which is a subject not attempted often in theatre. Produced by Bharat N. Thakkar and directed by Rajesh Joshi, 'Code Mantra' is a rather cleverly Indianised version of a Hollywood film (which was based on a play), adding family values and emotional drama to the otherwise grim plot.

The Rajputana Rifles unit is posted at a tough border outpost, where Colonel Indravadan Rajput  (Pratap Sachdeo) controls his men with stringent discipline that borders on cruelty.  One of the men, who is unfit for commando duties is given harsh punishment that kills him.  The man responsible for his death is his own brother, Second-in-command, Ashwin Rathod (Alpesh Dixit).

His mother requests the Military Law Expert Shagun Oza (Sneha Desai), to defend Ashwin, she takes the case against the advice of her husband (Amit Soni) and the good humored warning of the prosecutor (Suraj Vyas). When she tries to reach for the truth, she comes up against a wall of silence and cover-ups. She is aware that the army has a Code Mantra that involves using severe methods to toughen up men who show any sign of weakness; this could involve physical torture or starving the men, who don’t come up to the standards set by their commanding officers. Shagun had encountered it herself in the past, as a young cadet, whose military career was cut short by an injury caused by an administration of corporal punishment.

She comes up against a wall of silence, the rule of the military that extracts extreme loyalty from its ranks. It is a given that in the army, discipline and obedience are paramount, since the security of the country is at stake. But, the play calls for a bit of compassion too, keeping in mind the harsh condition the men (and some women) work under.

The play has scenes that are rousing and many that are chilling; particularly as the truth is gradually revealed. The performances are excellent, as are the production values, with meticulous attention to detail.

The smashing success of the play resulted in a Marathi version, which has also proved to be a hit.

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