Dickensian Delhi drama

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STAGE “Humein Naaz Hai” not only had a message, but also showed the reason for theatre itself. PHEROZE L. VINCENT

A scene from “Humein Naaz Hai”photo: Sushil Kumar Verma
A scene from “Humein Naaz Hai”photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

The chatterati apart, most ‘mango’ people on the metro ride from Mandi House will ask you the reason for coughing up as much as Rs.500 to watch a play when a two-month subscription of cable television costs as much. A lot of plays don’t give you a reason either.

Yes, the live dialogue, the lights, the expressions seem surreal on stage, rather than on screen. But, more significantly, it is that intangible matter that draws you into a play. That matter which a great play heightens and fills you up with, and a bad play dissipates. Mandala repertory’s “Humein Naaz Hai” filled Shri Ram Centre in New Delhi with that magical matter.

Picture this. A ragged old woman (Chavi Jain, also the choreographer) under a sinister blue light calls out into the darkness, “ Cheekhon se veeran hai sara shehar !” (The whole city is desolate with screams.) Soon, the lights turn bright, the drum beats start and the invisible masses of the city troop on to the stage and begin to dance and sing “ Shehar daudta hai ” (The city runs).

This kind of drama — glorious and magnetic, the kind that lifts your emotions and lets them hurtle, the kind that is theatrical yet not contrived — is why people go for plays. “Humein Naaz Hai” excels in this, in the magnification of daily life into a marvellous charge of art.

Lokesh Jain’s play, written in 2007, is based on the lives of street-dwellers around Jama Masjid’s Meena Bazar. The two-and-a-half hour play pivots its characters — their lives, struggles, illnesses and romance — around the tea stall of Jamalu (Nitin Kumar). Jamalu’s Kangla (pauper) Tea Stall, is the panchayat of a motley bunch that sleeps under the stars and subsists on the pittance they earn from loading sacks, sex work, washing clothes and catering. Children from Jamghat, an NGO that works with street children, are part of the cast.

Jain’s characters are strong and memorable ones. He paints them not from the eye of an observer but as if he is one of them. Jain also appears as Batasha Baba, a wandering balladeer with a bag full of candy drops for children. While Jamalu plays the conscience, Batasha is the soul of this old Delhi community which cannot afford the boundaries of religion.

While some of his characters struggle with Jain’s realism, the prominent ones, like the lunatic (Prabash Chandra), Kataari the eunuch (Sujeet) and Jhabbar the night watchman (Ishwar Sharma), are remarkably united with their characters.

The strength of the play, though, is the script.

The lunatic screams in the freezing cold, lamenting his life of failure. He tries his best to lift his own spirits by imagining aloud a new sunrise. He cries out to himself, “Don’t let the cold enter your bones!” Then, he dies.

Scenes and dialogue like this are many and flow seamlessly with the narrative. The play has political references to the numerous scams. It mocks the rulers and the opposition. The sarcasm is potent. As head loader Patru (Anup Bali) reads about Amitabh Bachchan’s stomach upset in a paper, one of his neighbours wriggles in discomfort with his own diarrhoea.

Jain, however, tests the patience of his audience. The songs, brilliant as they are, dragg the plot to dead speed only to be periodically shocked into motion by the lunatic and Kataari. Without an interval, it is the sheer energy of the script and Himanshu Joshi’s scene-specific lighting that keep the audience together.



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