Solo play ‘Qutbuddin Ansari' focusses on the person who, in a flash of a second, unwittingly became the defining image of the communal riots in Gujarat in 2002.

As Qutbuddin Ansari discovered on a horror-filled day in 2002, fame might come at a steep cost. Almost overnight the tailor from Ahmedabad became the defining image of the communal riots in Gujarat, when photojournalist Arko Datta of Reuters news agency clicked a picture of Ansari's tear-stained, terrified face. The photo was flashed across the world, but as Ansari found out soon enough it was to his detriment.

Gopi Kuttikode of Kasaragod People's Club endeavours to capture the dilemma of and the disaster in the life of a man haunted by a mere moment in the limelight, in a solo play titled ‘Qutbuddin Ansari,' which he scripted and directed. This sensitive portrayal of an unfortunate man was staged at Vyloppilly Samskriti Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram.

Ansari's troubles did not end with the riots. His photo was later perceived by a calmer Ahmedabad as a symbol of its shame and he was targeted so much that he was forced to shift to Kolkota. Later Ansari moved back to his hometown and it is said that he now actively avoids the press.

Ansari's tale forms the core of the play, but woven into the narrative are innumerable questions on privacy, public sensitivity and a new rationale for exile.

Jitesh Damodar, a photojournalist himself with a Malayalam daily in Kasaragod, enacted ‘the face that launched a thousand questions' rather well. He certainly looked every inch the part, and his strong resemblance to the protagonist in physique and his pleading expression – as in the iconic photograph – was spot on.

Dramatic entry

Jitesh's entry on stage was rather dramatic. While visuals of Ansari's story were being screened, there was a sudden flash of the camera and Jitesh entered the stage. One is instantly forced to draw parallels with how those very flashes of light would have disturbed Ansari's life.

Ansari pointedly asks the world: ‘Why are you staring into my life?' The question is quite symbolic and relevant, in these times where the electronic eye can follow us into every thought and deed. A life-size camera, with flashlights switched on, remains on stage as a reminder of the message.

One wishes the acoustics for the play were better organised – the punch of the dialogues was lost on several occasions especially when the actor paced the length of the stage.

Gopi has scripted and directed about 20 plays such as adaptations of ‘Les Miserables,' ‘Crime and Punishment' and ‘Alchemist.' He is also the man behind Sunday Theatre for Children in Kasaragod, which, for the past 10 years, has used theatre as a tool for education. The children's theatre, sustained with the active support of local self-government institutions, has travelled to other cities in the country and performed at stages in Mumbai and Hyderabad. Gopi's current projects include a stage adaptation of five stories of Tagore, which involves the use of symbols of Theyyam.