A play depicting the life of Faiz Ahmad Faiz through his verses provided thrilling fare for theatre goers

It was a most thrilling evening in the theatre, an evening celebrating the poetry of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, one of the most outstanding Urdu poets. The play “Bol Ke Lab Aazad Hain Tere” was staged on the occasion by Abhigyan Natya Association at Shri Ram Centre this past week, as part of the Modern Theatre Festival organised by the Sahitya Kala Parishad, Delhi.

Written by Parvez Ahmed, a senior journalist, novelist and playwright, the title of the play is drawn from Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s famous poem written when he was in prison. The playwright has created a narrator who also participates in the dramatic action. This storytelling device provides the narrative uninterrupted flow. The main focus is on Faiz’s poetry. Pakistan’s political history and the events in the personal life of Faiz which inspired the poet to compose poems form the backdrop of the play. Some of the memorable pieces are those written when he was behind bars. These poems are a call to all oppressed humanity to rise unitedly against tyrants.

In fact, we have witnessed several plays and dramatised versions of Faiz’s poetry in the past. The musical play “Dard Aayega Dabe Paon” by Sheela Bhatia is considered a classical production. During his centenary celebrations last year a number of plays were staged. More recent plays written by Danish Iqbal — “Kuchh Ishq Kiya Kuch Kaam” and “Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan — are significant works that have enriched Urdu theatre in the Capital.

The play “Bol ke Lab Aazad Hain Tere” starts with the narrator’s description of the life of Faiz’s father Sultan Mohammad Khan, a rich landlord, and Faiz’s early life, his education and his first love. The first poem rendered by the performers is “Aayiye Haath Uthayen Hum Bhi” — a call to progressive forces to join in the liberation struggle of the oppressed people of Latin America, Africa and Asia. We hear the musical rendering of the poem he recited at Moscow while receiving the Lenin Peace Prize awarded by the Soviet Union in 1963. Inspired by Sufi tradition, he avoided loading his poems with ideological rhetoric. There are poems in which he redefines the concept of love in the era of struggle against neocolonialism.

The play chronologically unfolds the life of Faiz through dramatic scenes, depicting his gradual development from a romantic to a revolutionary poet and the transformation of his world vision as a Marxist-Leninist associated with the communist Party of Pakistan and dedicating his life to the promotion of communism in Pakistan. There is a scene in which writers like Sajjad Zaheer meet, leading to Faiz’s enrolment as a member of the All India Progressive Writers’ Movement.

There are romantic scenes between Faiz and Alys, a British woman, leading to their marriage. Alys and her two little daughters — Moneeza and Salima — witness the arrest of Faiz, shocked. Alys’s visit to prison with her two daughters to meet Faiz is dramatised with mixed feelings of happiness and anxiety. The dramatisation of a poem “Mat Ro Bachchi Teri Ammi Ki Abhi Aankh Lagi Hai” brings alive the suffering of an orphaned child in Palestine caused by the brutal aggression of Israel.

The production also offers some light moments when the narrator tells the audience about Faiz and Krishan Chander, a famous Urdu short story writer, sitting at different tables with the flags of their respective countries at a writers’ conference abroad. They look at each other and smile and move to another table to sit together with their national flags on the same table.

The play is directed by Lokendra Trivedi, a member of the faculty of the National School of Drama, who was lucky enough to have heard Faiz recite his poems at an auditorium as well as at NSD when B.V. Karanth was the director of the School. For him to direct this play was a labour of love. His production was neat and the stage compositions were visually elegant. One of the highlights was the music jointly composed on the pattern of the tunes of songs in the repertoire of the Indian Peoples Theatre Association by Milind Trivedi and Sudheer Rikhari.

In the denouement, we see the delicately choreographed composition formed by performers who sang “Darbar-e-Watan Mein Jab Sab Jane Wale Jayenge”, exuding revolutionary fervour and optimism about a new dawn of human freedom — “then the masses, people of God will rule.”

The entire cast gives inspired performances. In the lead role of Faiz, Amit Saxena is brilliant. He captures the intensely felt tragic moments of his character when he hears the death of his brother —who has come to meet Faiz in prison — outside his room. Sudheer Rikhari as the narrator and Sajjad Zaheer combines his performance with intelligence, restraint and conviction. Ashima Pandey as Alys brings to her portrayal warmth, trust, deep anxiety and courage. Mohammad Fahim as Major Mohammad Ishaq sings some of Faiz’s poems in a soul-stirring voice. Dhirendra Gupta as the jailor is also impressive.