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Listen carefully... here comes Bade Bhai Sahab!


Munshi Prem Chand's "Bade Bhai Sahab" depicts the tender ties between two brothers.

SIBLING TALK A scene from the play "Bade Bhai Sahab" staged in New Delhi.

Prem Chand, the tallest novelist of Hindi who captured the stark reality of his time (1880-1936) was a passionate champion of the liberty of man from political, social and economic repression. He is rightly called a soldier wielding pen to launch a relentless war against communalism, untouchability, feudal and colonial oppression. Theatre artistes and film directors have brought alive some of his fictional works with telling effect. Surendra Sharma's "Rangbhoomi", "Godan" directed by M.K. Raina and "Moteram Ka Satyagrah" performed under the direction of Habib Tanvir are some of the outstanding stage versions of novels by Prem Chand which evoked tremendous response from the audience.

His two stories - `Shatranj Ke Khilari' which shows social decadence in India against the backdrop of advancing British colonialism and `Sadgati', a hard-hitting attack on the soulless practice of untouchability, have been made into films. Directed by Satyajit Ray, these films reveal the depth of Prem Chand's works which have become classics of contemporary India art cinema.

This past week one of his story `Bade Bhai Sahab' was staged by Mitr at the National School of Drama's Sammukh theatre to a capacity hall. Part of Weekend Theatre Festival, it is a severe indictment of our educational system.

Despite attempts at incorporating elements of low comedy, the production gets momentum in the second half, revealing the essence of the original work.

Theatrical shape

The stage version is written by M. Sayeed Alam who has succeeded in giving the story an appropriate theatrical shape. As the play proceeds, it appears that Dr. Alam is more interested in providing the audience with a lighted hearted fun by adding dialogue about the number of wives of Emperor Akbar and uncharitable remarks about Muslim rulers of medieval India. These are deviations which are out of tune with the oeuvre of Prem Chand. Directed by Anil Sharma, "Bade Bhai Sahab" depicts the tender relationship between two brothers - Kamta Prasad, aged 17 and Samta Prasad aged 12. Both are students who are staying in a hostel. The elder brother is a bookworm who stays in his room, reading all the time. The younger brother is more interested in games rather in study. The elder brother is a terror to the younger one who is being forced to read. The examination results come. The elder brother has failed and the younger one has topped his class.

Despite the fact that the elder brother threw his heart and soul into cramming his lessons, he took at least two years to get through in one class. But the younger brother continues to forge ahead in his studies with flying colours.

This changes the equation between the brothers, the younger takes more liberty, devoting time on games. A heart-broken elder brother gives a long lecture to his younger brother highlighting the virtue of being humble and the inevitable fall of the high-strung and vain person. There is force in the preaching that makes the younger brother ashamed of his conduct.

Anil Sharma's production is well conceived. The events are shown through flashback by an ageing Samta Parsad, reflecting on his days at hostel with his elder brother. The transition from the present to the past and vice versa is smooth. The climactic scene where the entire cast involves in kite flying is brilliant. It stirs the audience emotionally. The cast lives its characters, imparting vibrancy to the portraits. Umesh Goyal as the aged Samta Parsad creates a convincing portrait of a person who recalls his elder brother with a sense of gratitude. Siddharth Gautam as Kamta Parsad brings to his role a great deal of compassion, anguish and tenderness.

He together with Shiv Shanker, who plays the role of young Samta Prasad illuminate their scenes with subtle humour and mutual affection. Deepak Choudhary, Daksh Sharma and Nealesh Restogi impart liveliness to their scenes.

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