The Urdu Drama Festival featured works based on short stories of Krishan Chander, whose pen worked ceaselessly for the downtrodden.

Thanks to the efforts of Urdu Academy, Government of Delhi, theatre-lovers get the opportunity to see stage versions of the works of the finest writers in Urdu, featured at its annual drama festival. In the past we have seen dramatised versions of Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poetry as well as his life and times; we have also seen stage adaptations of fictional works of Munshi Prem Chand and Saadat Hasan Manto. To mark its 25th Urdu Drama Festival, the Academy presented short stories by Krishan Chander, one of the masters of Urdu fiction, at Shri Ram Centre this past week.

The thread running through these productions is one of a progressive ideology that stands for democratic socialism. A prolific writer, Krishan Chander wrote in both Urdu and Hindi with remarkable flair and originality, echoing the agony of the exploited living in a dehumanised world. His fiction also reflects the savagery of man against man during the Partition of India in 1947 and the human devastation during the manmade famine of Bengal in 1942. Born in Lahore, Krishan Chander (1914-1977) was a relentless critic of the inhuman face of capitalism.

One of the noteworthy plays in the six-day drama festival was “Halal Khor”, adapted by Mumtaz Alam. It was presented by The Dramatic Art & Design Association under the direction of Govind Singh Yadav. The protagonist is introduced to us through the character of the writer himself. His name is Kalu and he is the lowest among the lowly. He works for a pittance at a hospital as a sweeper. His elderly mother lives with him.

Though he lives in wretched conditions, he retains his human essence. He is in love with the world around him; his love for a goat and a cow is especially heart-warming. He often sleeps with them. He is shunned by society, except for the little son of the zamindar, his true friend who often sleeps with the goat and cow along with Kalu. He was none other than the young Krishan Chander.

The irony of his life is that he is not in a position to get married because he is poor, lowest in the social hierarchy and alienated from his own community, but he dances to his heart’s content when he watches wedding processions. These are the events in which he finds himself in an ecstatic state. He does not struggle for his dignity and for his right to be given better wages.

The characters of the goat and cow are projected through rod puppets skilfully manipulated. Tehseen Munnawer in the central role of Kalu gives a brilliant performance. Tehseen’s Kalu is naïve, affectionate and ready to work for the needy and faces the hardships of life without bitterness. He is the kind of anti-hero with an affectionate heart, in whom a heartless world finds an easy target to oppress. Vishnu Sharma as Kishan Chander reveals the dilemma of a sensitive and compassionate writer while conceiving a character whose life has no ups and downs and little drama.

“Darwaze Khol Do” is written in the form of a play which was once popular as a radio drama as well as stage drama that was staged by different amateur groups, including the Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association. At this festival it was presented by Living Theatre and directed by Sheikh Khairuddin, a dedicated theatre practitioner whose work reveals his serious professionalism.

“Darwaze Khol Do” depicts the stark reality of our society divided against itself in the name of religion, regionalism and caste. It is an unpretentious dramatic piece with normal intent revealed through dramatic action. Eschewing an obvious didactic message, it has wit, satire and pleasing situations. Sheikh has captured the austere ambience of the play and the realistic style of acting. The entire action takes place in the reception room of a spacious guest house visited by prospective tenants. The movements and style of delivery and weird clothes of characters are quite amusing. The landlord is a Brahmin, an arch reactionary, who wants only Brahmins who strictly adhere to vegetarian food. He is greedy and forces his manager to work on a typewriter, an antique piece. A critical stage comes when his outlook undergoes a radical change; it dawns on him that all mankind is essentially one. With the climactic scene in which the landlord declares, “Darwaze Khol Do” the production should have come to a close but the director enacts a brief sequence to impart a philosophic tone to the production. In fact, this sequence has weakened the dramatic impact and the pungent irony of the play. The members of the cast give commendable performances.

“Maha Laxmi Ka Pul” is a most gripping story that projects the two worlds of haves and the have-nots. The stark differences of their life style are revealed through the women that work at the houses of the rich. The saris the poor women use symbolise their abysmal poverty. They can only afford saris made of cheap, coarse cloth. After repeated use, these saris start fading with several patches on the torn spots which are to be seen by the world when these are put to dry in the sun after being washed. The husband of one of the women is a factory worker who is thrown out of the factory when his tuberculosis reaches a critical stage. Even living in these soulless conditions these women have brief moments of celebrations. Their young girls are brought up in this degrading environment and a few join the ranks of prostitution. To make the plight of these women more grim and miserable, on the other side of Laxmi Pul (bridge) are the costliest saris belonging to the women of the rich and famous being washed with utmost care by washermen and hung out in the sun. Towards the end the character of Krishan Chander exhorts the audience that he does not want them to believe in the class struggle. He simply wants them to become socially aware about the inhuman conditions in which the majority of people are condemned to live, rot and die like animals.

The play was presented by Parikalpana Cultural Society and adapted and directed by Rajesh Tiwari. Though at places Rajesh’s production is loud, it has vitality and his performers act with inner motivation, holding our attention throughout. Through the character of Krishan Chander it is subtly conveyed that the government is indifferent towards the plight of the marginalised and economically deprived.

The festival opened with “Parmaatma”, which was dramatised by Reoti Saran Sharma and presented by Three Arts Club under the direction of Ajay Manchanda. The production illustrates that in the capitalist mode of production the farmers are dispossessed of their land with impunity. The land grabbers are protected by the system. Even God is powerless to give justice to the aggrieved farmers.

Bahroop presented “Ek Qalam Sadak Kinaare” under the direction of Rajesh Singh. The production seeks to project the class character of an exploitative society through collages created from three stories — “Paanch Rupay Ki Azaadi”, “Kalu” and “Maha Laxmi Ka Pul”. It is an innovative effort to project the artistic vision of a revolutionary writer.

The festival came to an end with the presentation of “Hum To Mohabbat Karega”, directed by Krishan Kant and presented by Three Penny Theatre.