“Begum ka Takia”, though entertaining, suffers due to comparisons with its 1977 version.

Winner of the gold medal from the National School of Drama (NSD), Ranjit Kapoor is known for his brilliant adaptation and direction. He staged “Begum ka Takia” for the Repertory Company of NSD at the school's open-air venue recently.

An absorbing play, it was first produced and adapted by Ranjit Kapoor for NSD Repertory in 1977 with actors like Rajesh Vivek, Vijay Kashyap, Prem Matiyani, K.K. Raina, G.P. Namdev, Ragu Yadav and Uttara Baokar in the cast. The present production appears to be more or less designed on the pattern of the earlier production. The 1977 production radiated with excellent acting, offering the audience great theatrical movement. In comparison, old-timers found the acting standard not up to the mark in the latest production.

Adapted by Kapoor himself from Pandit Anand Kumar's novel, it is a play of morality which revolves round two brothers. The elder is greedy and dishonest; the younger one is honest and follows a high moral code in his life. The elder brother prospers and the younger suffers. Even in the face of misery and misfortune, the latter never compromises with his high principles. We watch the chain of events set off by the sudden prosperity of the elder brother and abysmal poverty of the younger through the eyes of Dariya Shah, a saint, and his disciple Qatra Shah.

The design, property and costumes evoke an ambience of a village inhabited by impoverished masons and bricklayers who have to struggle to make both ends meet. But the aim of the play is not to expose the impoverishment of these artisans; it dabbles with the old-fashioned question of good and evil, women and wealth as the cause of conflict.

Dramatic conflict

The dramatic conflict intensifies with the clash between the wives of the brothers. Elder brother Meera becomes rich after surreptitiously having grabbed the buried treasure and then disappears. He comes back with Begum, who claims to belong to high society, and her relatives. The younger brother, Peera, sinks into poverty though he has the money given to him by Dariya Shah to build a shelter for travellers. He is at liberty to use this money for his personal needs but a morally conscious Peera considers himself in charge of the money and cannot breach the trust. Peera's wife is a simple woman who retaliates when the wife of the older brother, who is a nautch girl in the garb of a high-society woman, and her relatives insult her husband.

The centre of discord between the two brothers is that the elder brother wants to make a palatial building at the behest of his wife on the land whose rightful owner is Dariya Shah, while the younger brother is determined to stop his brother from usurping the land of a holy man who wants to have a shelter for travellers on this land.

Kapoor is known for his brilliant adaptations from novels like “Mukhya Mantri” and “Begum Ka Takia”. In his directorial note in 1977 he writes, “I have so far directed only a few plays....” In his latest directorial note, he reproduces the old note. In fact, in a span of more than three decades Kapoor has done many significant works. He has been actively associated with Bollywood, writing dialogues, lyrics and TV scripts. In both brochures, he writes, “A director to me is an interpreter who simply solves the language problem – fills the communication gap between the two – not to feed them (audience) any particular interpretation.”

In fact, any creative artist should reinvent himself with the passage of time. His job is to interpret and recreate a given play to reflect the changing times, to be in tune with the new aesthetic sensibility of the audience. The production entertains but it does not stimulate us intellectually.

Navin Singh Thakur as Dariya Shah; Sunil as Peera, the idealistic younger brother; Punj Prakash Singh as Meera, the greedy elder brother; Abdul Shah as Nuru, the impassioned father-in-law of Peera; Anamika as Meera's wife, nautch girl in the garb of an aristocrat; Sapna Khatana as Ameena; and Dwarka Dhaiya as Bindu Chacha, a sincere supporter of Peera, give a good account of themselves, but good is not enough when they are performers with the repertory company of the premier drama institute of the country.