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Into the world of the middle class


Munshi Prem Chand's works catch the attention of theatre directors for their remarkable contemporary appeal. "Gaban", mounted at New Delhi's Shri Ram Centre was one such production.

THE GLITTER OF THE GOLD A scene from the play "Gaban"

The stage version of Munshi Prem Chand's novel "Gaban", presented by Sahitya Akademi at the Shri Ram Centre this past week evoked tremendous response from theatre-lovers. The stage version, written by Dinesh Rai, was part of Prem Chand's 125th birth anniversary celebrations. Prem Chand was the tallest novelist in Hindi and Urdu who gave voice to the voiceless Indian masses oppressed by the British imperialism, feudalism and superstitions. A pioneer of modern fiction in Hindi and Urdu with focus on social concerns, his works have a creative force that transcends his time. He has written 15 novels, 300 short stories and three plays. The range of his characters is immense and they are endowed with enduring popularity. A realist to the core, he saw man essentially as a moral creature.

Contemporary appeal

In recent times, theatre directors are discovering in his works social and political concerns with remarkable contemporary appeal. Some of the stage versions are "Godaan", directed by M.K. Raina and Surendra Sharma's "Rangbhoomi". Several of his short stories are appearing on the stage which are being watched with a deep sense of involvement by children and adults alike. What is most heartening is that almost all stage versions of Prem Chand's novels and short stories are presented to capacity halls.

If "Godaan" depicts the impoverished landscape of rural India, "Gaban" portrays the empty, vain and ostentatious world of the middle class. "Gaban" appeared in 1931; ever since more than 30 editions of the novel have been published. What are the basic social and political concerns the novel presents? It is the morbid fondness of the Hindu middle class housewives for ornaments that sets off a chain of reactions which ruins the happiness and harmony of a family. The braggart husband who loves ostentation accelerates the process of adversity and humiliation of the family. He hides his poor economic condition from his wife who nags him endlessly, demanding a necklace. The husband embezzles government money and buys ornaments for his wife. What gives the novel strength and universality is Prem Chand's ingenuity to provide the story of a doomed family with deep undercurrents of the freedom movement and the inhuman acts of an oppressive police force to frame innocent people to destroy revolutionaries.

Sketchy adaptation

Dinesh Rai's stage adaptation tends to be sketchy. The character of Jaalpa, the housewife, dominates the novel. The transformation of this character from an ordinary housewife to a morally and politically conscious woman appears to be abrupt on the stage. If he had created the character of a Sutradhar to carry the story forward as well as comment on the events with their social and political significance, the production would have been more powerful and harmonious. Director Vibha Mishra, a graduate of the National School of Drama and a senior artiste of Bhopal Rang Mandal, offers some serious moments to the audience. The imaginative use of music brings alive vibrantly some of the sequences like the marriage ceremony. The novel is optimistic and so is the stage version. In its optimism there are moral overtones that have an ennobling impact on the audience.

Rajeev Shrivastava as the husband of Jaalpa imparts his portrait with elan and vitality. Aalok Gachchh's Devi Deen, a poor vegetable vendor, gives shelter to Jaalpa's husband, who flees from Allahabad after embezzling government money, in Calcutta. His two sons have already sacrificed their lives for the cause of the national freedom. In the climactic scene he acts with a force that stirs the audience emotionally. Hima Shrivastava as the little Jaalpa acts admirably.

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