Relevance of Chanakya

  • This interview with veteran actor Manoj Joshi tells how and why Chanakya has been a popular historical play for decades and how he started enacting the role of Chanakya.

Chanakya, also known as Kautilya and Vishnugupta, may have lived hundreds of years ago, but his thought and ideology are still relevant today. He felt that people were of utmost importance, as they could make or break the government.

In an exclusive interview with veteran actor Manoj Joshi who plays the protagonist and writer Mihir Bhuta, we find out as to how and why Chanakya has been a popular historical play for the last three decades, witnessed by art lovers and several dignitaries, including PM Narendra Modi. Due to public demand, Chanakya is being staged all over India and overseas.

First published in Journal of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

Actor Manoj Joshi won the coveted Padma Shri (2018) for his outstanding contribution in the field of theatre, television and films. Manoj Joshi is a Gujarati but spent his formative years in Raigarh, Maharashtra, before settling down in Mumbai, hence can speak Marathi and Gujarati fluently.

Recalling his boyhood days, Manoj says, “My grandfather was a storyteller and father was a kirtan-kaar presenting the interpretation of kirtans, music, story, acting and narration that would last for more than two hours, but people watched and listened with great attention. That was the atmosphere I grew in hence the performing arts came naturally to me.

“While I was in school I learnt Sanskrit and read about Chanakya in the play Mudrarakshasa written by Vishakadutta. I dreamed of some day playing the role of Chanakya on stage.

“I was poor in Maths, hence I was miserable in school. In Mumbai, the education system too differed. After finishing school, I enrolled myself as a student of J J School of Arts and later took up a job as a caricaturist. Meanwhile, we established an amateur theatre group for English, Hindi and Marathi plays. I realised that to sustain yourself and pay your bills, theatre was not enough, hence I started doing small character roles for television and movies but was not happy with the roles. My long-time friend, writer Mihir Bhuta, suggested that he would write the play Chanakya and I could play Chanakya. We researched for four years before launching the play.” 

Writer Mihir Bhuta says, “We were college friends. In my twenties, after reading over 50 books, I scripted Chanakya which is inspired by V ishakadutta’s Mudrarakshasa and not based on Chanakya’s Arth Sastra. It portrays the story of Chandragupta Maurya and how he rose to become the king of the largest empire in Magadha, with the proper guidance rendered by Chanakya. The dramatic pinnacle of the play is when Rakshasa, the hostile minister of Dhanananda, attacks and humiliates Chanakya for having helped Chandragupta to escape from him. 

“Chandragupta was also a disciple of Chanakya. Chanakya was a Brahmin and a man of principles and ideology and explained to Chandragupta the importance of gaining the goodwill of the people. Chanakya was against the corrupt king, who sold armaments to their enemy Alexander. Chanakya took a vow that he would not cut his hair until he destroyed the Nanda dynasty. The Chanakya in my play is quite aggressive, unlike the version seen in the television serial by Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi.” 

Manoj Joshi has acted in several other plays, but Chanakya is the popular favourite and loved and appreciated by everyone. Some of the most memorable lines from Chanakya are: “Ek shikshak kranti la sakta hai.” (A teacher can bring about a revolution); “Stri keval bhog ya bhajan ke patra nahi hain.” (Women are not mere objects for enjoyment or devotion); “Nishtha ke patra hote hain jansamudai.” (People are meant to be loyal). 

Manoj says, “The play is as relevant today, as it was in the time Arthashastra was written. In order to curb corruption, demonetisation of currency is necessary and ultimately the welfare of the people is of great importance. A person belongs to a family, a community, a society and the country at large.” 

Chanakya was an idealist and a teacher of repute, and the students would listen to his lectures with great attention. Chandragupta Maurya was his student, so he guided him and advised him to be rational and pragmatic. Chanakya openly criticised the corrupt practices of the government and was criticised. He shielded Chandragupta and was attacked by the men of Magadha and it is at this stage that he vowed to destroy the government and start afresh with the rightful and just approach for the betterment and welfare of the people.

In fact, it is the people who make or mar the country’s progress. In the play, Chanakya advises Chandragupta to forget his personal pleasures for the sake of the people. The support of the people helped him in establishing a large empire.

“In our country of crores of people, it is only 3 crores that pay taxes. The taxes are again used for the progress of the society, for the betterment of life and living. I want more and more people to watch the play as it gives an insight of the culture of the people and as to how rashtra bhakti (devotion for the country) is important, and if we are united, nobody can destroy us,” Manoj says on a parting note.


This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal, 1-15 June 2024 issue. This article is courtesy and copyright Bhavan’s Journal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai-400007. eSamskriti has obtained permission from Bhavan’s Journal to share. Do subscribe to the Bhavan’s Journal – it is very good.


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2. Life of Chanakya

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