M. Sayeed Alam’s “Ghalib” provides a complete biography of Mirza Ghalib.
If I am not wrong, so far two films have been made on Mirza Ghalib; one was by Sohrab Modi in the early 60s and then in mid-80s came as a TV serial by Gulzar. Sheila Bhatia also wrote a play “Ghalib Kaun Hai” based on Mehdi’s manuscript of the same title. Then came a landmark “Shareek-e-Ghalib” written and directed by Sayeed Alam at the Talkatora Stadium in Delhi with a cast of about a hundred children from Sanatan Public School of 10 to18 years. The play had many firsts to its credit, for instance it was for the first time that we heard qawwalis based on Ghalib’s ghazals.
Now to Alam’s latest play “Ghalib” that premiered recently at Sri Ram Centre with Tom Alter, presented by Pierrot’s Troupe and directed by Alam. Tom Alter plays the 70-year-old Ghalib, with four different actors also playing Ghalib in different age groups. As the lights came on the stage, enter two children, Ghalib as a child and his friend Bansidhar. Both the friends are interested in Sher-o-Shayari. Bansidhar (Sohan Chauhan) recites the first line of a verse while his friend Umair (Ghalib, the child) completes the verse and also ties a knot around his waist band — a habit that Ghalib practiced all through his life while reciting ghazals. In the meanwhile Mir Taqi Mir and Nazeer Akbarabadi enter and are greatly impressed. They talk to the children and Ghalib introduces himself as Asadullah Khan Asad-va-Ghalib.
As the four leave the stage, Ghalib in his seventies (Tom Alter) and Maulana Altaf Hussein Hali (Ghalib’s biographer) have entered and sit downstage right corner. Ghalib in his inimitable style laced with humour and satire talks about Ghalib the child, Ghalib the (carefree) young man, Ghalib the (mature) middle aged. His wife (Umrao Begum), a God fearing lady married to a man who dared God. His family that got reduced to two from seven in a very short span. His deranged brother, shot dead as a rebel by Britons in 1857. His lady love (Mughol Jan), who committed suicide. His little attempts to secure a dignified position in Mughol Darbar, and also the professorship in Delhi College (now Zakir Hussain College). His contemporaries Mir Taqi Mir, Nazeer Akbarabadi, Zauq, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Agha Jaan Aish, Sir Ross, Thompson, Col. Brown and many others. In the process he dispels myths about his rivalry with Zauq; about his love for wine (and women), and about his role in 1857, etc. At the core of the play are Ghalib’s ghazals, recited, sung and danced.
In short, it is a biography. As we go along we meet Ghalib as a young man (Harish Chabra), Ghalib the middle aged (Anil George) and Mughol Jaan Sanam who is in love with Ghalib, which Ghalib came to realise quite late in his life.
Incidentally, Alam does not in any way underline the romantic affair between Mughal Jaan and the young Ghalib whereas in the film by Sohrab Mody it is just the reverse; shown as if Ghalib was madly in love with her.
As we go along the playwright takes us through many episodes or incidents in Ghalib’s life, for instance Ghalib not being selected for professorship in Delhi College (now Zakin Hussain College), his arrest on charge of gambling, Ghalib in jail where he meets the civil surgeon who later helps him. Throughout his life, Ghalib retains his customary sense of humour even when he is being taken in jail. The playwright dispels many myths built around Ghalib like for instance his rivalry with Zaug; his excessive love for wine and women. Incidentally, Ghaib came to realize quite late in his life that Mughal Jaan was in love with him. On his way to Calcutta Ghalib stops over in Banaras and goes to meet Mughal Jaan who hints that this may be their last meeting. On his way back from Calcutta he is once again in Banaras and discovers that Mughal Jaan has committed suicide.
During the play, we saw four actors playing Ghalib; Tom Alter, Umair as Ghalib the child, Harish Chabbra as Ghalib the young man and Anil George as middle aged Ghalib. All were exceptionally good along with the rest of the cast. Dr. Alam, the scriptwriter, provides much space for singing and dance that the director makes full use of and we have some beautiful ghazals in the course of the performance. The find of the year is Sarita, a class ten student, as Mughal Jaan Sanam, whose maiden performance as an actor, singer and a dancer held us spell bound.