“Qaid-e-Hayat” fused creative stage design with Ghalib’s magical couplets

A scene from “Qaid-e-Hayat” that is imprinted on my mind is the lamps suspended from ceiling in the backdrop of a deep blue sky and a glowing crescent. Revered 19 Century poet Mirza Ghalib (played by director Danish Iqbal) walks in to the home of his most ardent fan, Katiba (Nidhi Mishra). The dialogue between Ghalib and Katiba, in nostalgic and nectar-like Urdu, takes place under these lamps whose strings are invisible. Their longing for intimacy remains unfulfilled and immortal.

Sada Arts Society presented Surendra Verma’s “Qaid-e-Hayat” this week during the Yuva Natya Samaroh. Directed by Danish Iqbal, the three-act play centres around the days preceding and soon after Ghalib’s visit to Kolkata. This writer admits his ignorance of Urdu and, for most part, could only enjoy the dialogue belatedly with occasional translation by a fellow viewer.

The first act is a teary dialogue between Ghalib’s wife Umrao (Vasundhra Bose) and her elder sister (Shadan Ahmad). The Ghalib household is steeped in debt. It is Umrao that faces the messengers of moneylenders everyday, while Ghalib lives in his mehfils under a veneer of respectability as an intellectual. The speech is soft and unamplified, completely audible only in a theatre without mobile phones or wailing infants.

The melodrama is relieved only by Ghalib’s devoted disciple Parvez’s (Aamir) hilarious utterings in his quest to be known as a poet of Gali Qasim Jan. The first act also depicts the envy of contemporary poets like Yaseen (Sadanand Patil). Patil, remembered for his role in “Zangoora”, plays the role of proud yet jealous poet well. His gestures communicate as much his lines.

However, Ghalib is shown as one ahead of his time. His poetry, though par excellence, is not commercially viable. Only his counterparts have a grudging respect for him.

The costumes, by Zeba Danish, are grand, understated and accurate. Ayushi Mishra plays the stereotypical belle Shereen, Katiba’s friend. Her performance was a synergy of the elements of costume, lighting, makeup and her expressions. Her role was a short one, where she teases Katiba about her infatuation with Ghalib and poetry. But her performance was the best among a cast of skilled actors.

In the final act, Ghalib returns home after losing out on the legal tussle he had set out to resolve in the imperial capital of Kolkata. He is confined to his home by a creditor until he pays off his dues.

Burdened with humiliation, Katiba’s death breaks his spirit. Iqbal portrays this pain extremely well, not only in his performance but also through the mise en scene itself.