Ramesh Sharma’s production of Khalid Ki Khala transformed a highly contrived script into a plausible one

Men impersonating women have been a perennial source of laughter in theatre. In recent memory the most popular comedy play of this genre has been Khalid Ki Khala, which frequently appears on the Delhi stage in different styles. The latest version of the play, staged by the Repertory Company of National School of Drama as a part of its 50th year celebration, reveals its enduring comic appeal. Adapted from Charley’s Aunt by Brandom Thomas, Khalid Ki Khala was probably staged for the first time in the Hindi region by Hindustani Theatre under the direction of Monika Mishra, wife of legendary theatre personality Habib Tanvir. The Urdu adaptation is by Begum Qudsia Zaidi, a writer, theatre practitioner and founder of Delhi's first professional theatre group known as Hindustani Theatre. The dialogue is crisp and in chaste Urdu which enhances the charm of the play.

The comic play under review is directed by Ramesh Talwar who has already done it some time back for Indian People’s Theatre Association, Mumbai. The play opens in the living room of Khalid Latif, who is struggling to write his first love letter. His friend enters, facing the same problem. Meanwhile, Khalid receives an urgent message that his rich, widowed aunt is coming to visit him from abroad. She and the nephew will meet for the first time.

Khalid wants to meet his aunt to get rid of his financial problems. He is equally desperate to invite his girl friend to a lunch. It is sheer coincidence that the friends happen to be in love with cousins who live under the watchful eye of the highly conservative and stern disciplinarian Khan Bahudur Sibtain. The lovelorn friends devise a plan to invite their sweethearts to lunch in the presence of Khalid’s aunt. As preparations are under way for the lunch, Khalid receives another message from his aunt that her arrival has been delayed. The cousins had blatantly told their lovers that they would come for the lunch only in the presence of a lady. Crestfallen, they have now lost all hope of meeting their sweethearts. However, a ray of hope is perceived when their friend Nawabzada Ahmad Khan enters the scene. He is to appear in a show as a female impersonate. He wants to rehearse with costumes. The friends insist that he act as the aunt of Khalid. With this the real fun begins. The girls arrive at the right time and are happy that they have female company while meeting with their boy friends.

Enraged by the defiance of his daughter and niece, Sibtain threatens the young men with dire consequences for their audacity to invite girls to their room. He also encounters the ‘aunt’ and is infatuated by ‘her’ body language. Soon, his mask of stern disciplinarian is off. He starts making advances towards ‘her’. The situation becomes all the more complicated with the arrival of the genuine aunt —Begum Jafar Shustaro Madino — who is accompanied by a beautiful young woman in search of her long lost lover. Enters Khalid’s father, a widower who has squandered all his ancestral property and is in search of a new source of income. As soon as he meets Begum Jafar, he falls in love with her.

Veteran theatre director Talwar has effectively treated a series of intricate situations created by confrontations between lovers. He avoids farcical situations like slapstick and exaggerated physical movements. There are a number of awkward situations created by elderly men chasing their sweethearts. The success of the director lies in his transforming a highly contrived script into a plausible one.

The set designed by Rajesh Bah provides the right ambience for the action. The colours of props add visual charm to the production and to its dominant mood of romantic enticement. The production acquires comic momentum slowly and moves towards a climax which sparkles with comic brilliance.

The entire cast proves to be eminently comic, creating portraits that are delightful, lively and humorous. However, Palash Protim Mech as Khan Bahudur Sibtain and Sukumar Tu Du as Nawabzada Ahmad Khan as the female impersonator transform their scenes in an effortless manner into a funny game of hide and seek.