Kathmandu: The spread of a deadly pathogen has kept the anthropomorphic animals on their toes. But the leader of the animals remains unfazed. He tells his followers that ingesting besar pani, turmeric powder with water, is the surefire remedy. The leader in question is called Kepolean, a blunt, tongue-in-cheek reference.
Aided by sketches like this and many others, Katha Ghera’s Nepali adaptation of George Orwell’s 1945 novella Animal Farm tries to ground the book’s timeless satire to Nepal’s contemporary political reality.
Orwell wrote his book as an allegory for the Russian Revolution and the rise of Joseph Stalin, a Soviet dictator whose totalitarian rule is characterized by famine, diseases and wars, leading to the deaths of an undue number of civilians.
The book tells the story of a revolt initiated by the animals against their human owner, hoping for freedom from his cruel captivity. To their unfortunate surprise, the rebellion heads southward when they fall under the dictatorship of a pig, making their lives even more miserable than it was before.
Kausi’s adaptation, translated into Nepali and directed by Akanchha Karki, has managed to touch on various ills that afflict Nepali governance. The animal characters in the farm represent the general people of Nepal, whereas the human owner is the executive head.
The animals go into a rebellion when they realize they’ve had enough of their owner’s brutality. They then establish The Seven Commandments that the animals must abide by. Once the revolution is accomplished and freedom achieved, the animals are at peace. But they know that the freedom was momentary and they could be attacked at any time.
They do win several attacks but lose several lives. But even within the animals, there is one, a pig called Kepoleon (played by Ingi Hopo Koinch Sunuwar), who is not looking for the benefit of everyone but of himself. The animals are blinded by his fiery speeches and neglect the genuine leader, S. B (played by Ojaswi Bhattarai), who is chased away under the command of Kepolean. When some animals try to speak up or ask questions, they are shut off immediately while most of the animals blindly follow his leadership.
This can be interpreted to reflect the rise of the cult of personality in Nepali politics. It shows what blind faith in a particular leader without questioning the nature of their politics and governance could lead to.
There is a specific act in the play, a strategic inversion to the original, that reflects how our patriarchal society is reluctant to heed the voices of a woman. A character named Mala, a horse played by Binita Lama Gurung, takes a moment to explain how she has always been ignored when it comes to her opinions. She says that she is only judged for her looks and everyone assumes that she does not have any intellectual capacity.
In the play, Kepolean further consolidates his power with support from the conniving Chaapluse, a pig played by Rishikesh Basyal. Chaapluse (the name translates to ‘bootlicker’) is a representation of a pseudo supporter, who is only looking for his benefits by getting close to the leader–yet another characteristic of contemporary Nepali politics.
This is a common problem faced by many women in their respective fields, where people automatically assume them to be intellectually weaker than her male colleagues and friends. The play rightly identifies deep-rooted patriarchy as the major reason for this discrimination.
In the play, Kepolean further consolidates his power with support from the conniving Chaapluse, a pig played by Rishikesh Basyal. Chaapluse (the name translates to ‘bootlicker’) is a representation of a pseudo supporter, who is only looking for his benefits by getting close to the leader–yet another characteristic of contemporary Nepali politics. Chaapluse is a manipulator intent on benefitting from the leader and making people agree with the leader’s ways.
Under Kepolean’s leadership, the animals are made to do heavy manual labor while he enjoys his comfortable, lavish life. Chaapluse is sure there would be no rebellion to overthrow the leader.
This is the general premise of the Nepali kleptocracy as well. While the people slave away for minimal wages, leaders lead a lavish life. And when questioned regarding their competence, the answer will be that the leader is overloaded with other works, as shown in the play.
The Seven Commandments that were supposed to be followed by everyone, including Kepolean and Chaapluse, were constantly changed according to their will, without considering the welfare of the other animals.
The play seems to impart a moral that even a commoner will forget about the people’s need when they get the taste of power. The rules and regulations keep on changing according to the comfort of the leaders. The civilians continue to get swindled. Some animals, after all, are more equal than others.
(“Animal Farm” is on stage at Kaushi Theatre every day, except Mondays, at 5:15 pm, through December 18. There’ll be an additional show on Saturday afternoon.)