Saleem Shah all set to stage “Zoya Khan Jawab Do”.

In Chittranjan Park, a bunch of young and not-so-young aspiring actors from Delhi, Aligarh, Mathura and Mumbai are engaged in what they define as “a serious issue” through “Zoya Khan Jawab Do”, a play penned and directed by Saleem Shah.

The play begins with young actors gathering to practice lessons in acting. The ‘trust section' forms an important segment of the practice. The actors playing varied roles of a bi-sexual, a businessman and a punter, etc., look chilled as they enjoy paranthas and siwaiyan while rehearsing. The equations change when a cop gatecrashes and announces about the bomb blasts at five places in Delhi. He misbehaves with the actors but doubts only Zoya Khan's credentials. His provocative words prompt distrust in other actors and their group divides into two – pro and anti Muslim. Through confrontational dialogues the play attempts to remove certain misgivings about the Muslim community in India.

“Part fantasy and part fiction”, the play, says Shah is an answer to several questions being put to him or “at least hinted at” him because he is a Muslim too.

Sense of responsibility

“On May 13, 2008, I was in Jaipur doing an acting workshop with aspiring actors of similar nature. After we heard of the bomb blast at five places, we were looked at with disgust and distrust. Though I knew Zoya or I had nothing to do with the blast I felt a sense of responsibility to tell people to have an open dialogue. After 1984 Sikh riots, any blast would trigger a suspicion about the community but now it has shifted to the Muslims for almost two decades.”

What “hurts” Saleem as an educated Indian Muslim is that despite common people from all the religions believing that an average Indian Muslim has nothing to do with any terror activity in India, small ‘beliefs' like ‘Muslims are unhygienic, they have more children, marry four times and are inherent supporters of Pakistan' crop up.

Says Shah, “When I was in standard VIIth, I had the option of taking either Urdu or Sanskrit. My parents suggested that I took Sanskrit as I already knew Urdu. On Eid, the first person to greet us was a Hindu. And it still is the case. So, I thought it's high time we came out in the open and spoke with each other.

If India didn't have saner voices, it wouldn't have remained a secular country today. Through this play I am also expressing my apprehensions that due to constant provocations saner voices should not become ‘sena' voices, and wish that ‘sena' voices become saner voices.”

Speaking your mind

Echoing Shah's sentiments, Anjali Gehrana who plays Zoya adds, “Playing Zoya has helped me understand Muslims and Islam better”.

Adds Vishal, who plays a struggling actor, “We are asked to speak up our minds rather than remembering dialogues. It has helped us open up too.”

The play would be staged on December 5, 6 at Alliance Française at 4 and 7 p.m. For booking tickets contact 9911050506