“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see”— words made famous by America’s most famous professional boxer and activist Muhammad Ali. Countless books and films have been made on this famous sports personality who was as well-known for his prowess in the ring as for his fiery activism. When the Centre for Contemporary Art in Kochi decided to make Muhammad Ali the focus of their play, it was decided that the play would focus on relatively little known aspects of his life. So it became that the play was titled Ali — Beyond the Ring — a clear indication of what the audience can expect. The play is directed by Joy P.P. and written by Madan Babu with the rehearsals for the play going on in full swing in Kochi.
The life of Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay, lends itself to some dramatic moments. Ali antagonised the White establishment by refusing to be drafted into the U.S. military, citing religious beliefs and his opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War. Subsequently, he was stripped off his boxing titles, which he fought against for four years and these years are the focus of the play.
Joy says, “Those years were when he travelled to different universities and colleges, giving inspiring talks on wars and inequality. Ali used to refer to revolutionary figures like Che Guevara, Mao Zedong, Nelson Mandela and Ambedkar in his speeches. These form the foundation of the play and all these figures will come alive on stage choreographed to revolution music.”
The play focuses on three focal areas — Ali’s fight against racism, his conversion to Islam and his fight against the Vietnam War. So who will play Ali? “Sheril from Malappuram with 30 years of theatre experience and 40 plays under his belt will play the iconic figure,” says Joy.
There is a surprise too. If it is Ali’s life being played out on stage, his boxing prowess cannot be totally ignored. So that too will be a part of the play. “There will be a boxing ring with four professional boxers playing themselves.” Sheril is currently practicing boxing to perfect the part of Ali. Not many know that Ali was also a singer. Consequently, there will be a live music band that will capture Ali’s passion for American hip-hop. Joy reveals, “The play’s narrative will be done in rap style with a live rap band.” Joy has 30 years of experience in theatre himself and is also a playwright who has directed several well-received plays. Ali — Beyond the Ring is crowdfunded and the makers are looking to stage the play in January....