Nadira Zaheer Babbar’s latest venture,“Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan”, entertaining yet filled with pathos, proved to be in line with her work around social concerns

A graduate from National School of Drama, Nadira Zaheer Babbar has been continuously doing theatre, producing plays which are lively and interesting with deep undercurrents of social concerns that she harbours as an artiste. As a playwright she has charted her own course, which is different from slick scripts modelled on the western pattern of play writing. In fact, her plays are free from intellectual pretensions and vibrate with characters drawn from life. As a perceptive actor, she acts in a spontaneous manner, living her character, establishing a rapport with the audience. As a director she designs her production in a realistic style with attention to capture the details of the milieu in which the action has been set. Her two productions staged at Shri Ram Centre at the Rang Mahotsav, organised by the Film and Theatre Society this past week revealed the distinct feature of her artistry and the freshness of one of her much acclaimed previous production premiered more than a decade ago.

Actor, playwright and director, Nadira’s latest production is “Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan”, which she produced for her Mumbai-based theatre group Ekjute. The theatre group is known for its entertaining and socially relevant plays which evoketremendous response from the audience. Over the years, she has built an impressive audience for her plays in Mumbai, Lucknow and Delhi.

Having borrowed its title from the film song of “CID” picturised on Johny Walker, the play seeks to project some aspects of the life of struggling artistes, who come to Mumbai from different parts of the country to make it big in the dreamworld of films. They live in a small room, which is crammed and dingy. Through their conversations with the members of their family back home on mobile, the audience come to know about their family background. A lyricist acts as the father figure to the strugglers. A young man attempts to commit suicide because of his inability to come to terms with the pain caused by unrequited love.

After waiting for years for him to fulfil his promise of marrying her, the frustrated girl finally yields to the wishes of her parents, who have decided to marry her off. Though sincere, the young man could not marry the girl because of his persistent failure to ensure financial stability. In contrast, another struggler has good luck to be united with his beloved, who comes all the way from her home-town to Mumbai.

The play focuses on the crammed room of the strugglers, which is aptly designed to capture the struggle of the artistes. In a way, it reminds one of Maxim Gorky’s “Lower Depths” set in a cellar in which live the social rejects, who lead a hopeless life. “We walk with a groan and sleep with a moan – that’s the way we live,” says the character in “Lower Depths” but Nadira’s characters quarrel a lot at the trivial issues and cheat, steal and live in miserable conditions. They do not mouth any philosophical comments on life the way some of the characters in “Lower Depths” do. The strugglers in “Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan” are simple, entangled in their own small world hoping to get a break some day. Despite of their defeats, privations and isolation from their family, they retain their human essence. In their heart of hearts they are essentially good and compassionate beings.

Through the interactions of the famous Dabbewalla with the residents of the crammed room, the play reveals the attitude of Maharashtrians towards those who come to Mumbai to improve their lot. The Dabbewalla feels that ‘outsiders’ do not assimilate with mainstream culture of Maharashtra, despite having prospered in life after coming to Mumbai.Another character, that of a doctor reinforces the same idea. The good doctor treats one of the strugglers, who attempts to commit suicide despite the medico-legal nature of the case mandating the patient to be treated by a government hospital. Through the blatant raid of the room by the police, the play depicts the communal bias and their ruthlessness towards innocent Muslim youth. It indicts a society foreing violent against its women.

Structurally, the play is not tight and tries to focus on various issues that migrants have to face in Mumbai and the action keeps on shifting to different locales but the narrative keeps returning to the thematic concern the play seeks to highlight. Nadira displays a knack for treating dramatic situations with a touch that evokes laughter alternated by pathos but never wavering the attention of the audience. Despite the fact that the production acquires at times a preachy tone and becomes sloppily sentimental at places, this latest venture by Ekjute is a likeable effort. The entire cast gives commendable performances.

Begum Jaan

Written by Javed Siddiqui, “Begum Jaan” has already been watched by Delhi audience in the past. Its repeat show as the inaugural dramatic piece at Rang Mahotsav at Shri Ram Centre is remarkable for its freshness, revealing multiple emotional and psychological layers of a great singer of the yore, who defines the relationship between her art and her admirers, men of high social status. As she partially recounts her glorious days in nostalgic mood, she offers profound moments. Nadira in the lead role was the cynosure of all eyes. Juhi Babbar Soni as the granddaughter of Begum Jaan acts in a restraint manner, effectively bringing to the fore the inner suffering of her character and finally asserting her independence and dignity. Anoop Soni as the opportunistic journalist portrays his character with subtlety.