Theatre

The life and times of Josh Malihabadi

Beyond the obvious: Arshad Eqbal in “Yaadon Ki Baraat”   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Wings Cultural Society headed by talented young theatre practitioner Tarique Hameed is undoubtedly a first-of-a-kind which mainly focuses on novelists and poets whose works inspire to create a morally better world. We have seen in the past fine productions by the group that appeared at prestigious festivals including Bharat Rang Mahotsav.

Critically acclaimed, its productions include “Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan” by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, “Topi Ki Dastaan” by Rahi Masoom Raza and “Sara Ka Saara Asmaan” based on the life of poetess Sara Shagufta. Continuing its artistic credo, it has presented “Yaadon Ki Baraat” based on the autobiography of Josh Malihabadi at Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre recently under the direction of Salima Raza.

Salima Raza in “Yaadon Ki Baraat”

Salima Raza in “Yaadon Ki Baraat”  

Poetic musings

Candidly frank, the production evokes multiple moods, vividly bringing alive vignettes of the life of poet Josh Malihabadi (1898-1982) and his turbulent times. It is marked by sophistication and poetic musings. Such evenings are rarely witnessed on the Delhi stage these days.

Director Salima Raza has evolved her own presentational form which unravels content in an unpretentious manner. There are two performers — Salima herself and Arshad Eqbal, producer, director and voice caster, — who sit on the chairs occupying centre stage.

Josh Malihabadi in a poster of the play

Josh Malihabadi in a poster of the play  

Both are holding copies of autobiographical account of the poet, elaborating their point by reading relevant passages from the autobiography. After establishing themselves in conversational mode in an unaffected style, they establish a lively rapport with the audience. In this process, Salima and Arshad transcend the concept of the fourth wall and make the members of the audience involved in the revelation of the poems and times of the poet and to reflect on his works and social conflicts he confronted. The performers remain sitting on their chairs throughout the show, their tonal variations, clarity of accent using punch at the right place and facial expression eloquently convey the central idea of the autobiography.

Another innovative aspect of Salima's production is the use of recorded off stage music which is beautifully rendered in soulful voices highlighting the poets world view. The melody appears to start from a distance, rising steadily, making transition from conversation into melodious renderings of poems lyrical and an integral part of the narrative.

Enlightened visionary

Known for his defiance of dogmas and British colonial rulers, Josh Malihabadi is greatly venerated for his poetic richness and social vision and is famously called Shayar-e-Inquilab. He is one of the finest Urdu poets who stood for the oppressed. He remained in India till 1956 and later migrated to Pakistan.

The performers narrate his poems, biography full of romantic anecdotes that impart insight into the emotional world of a poet who wrote fearlessly.

The director interpreted his work and times not in a style that is ostentatiously philosophical replete with pompous Persianised Urdu. Her aim was to capture everyday occurrences which kept audience in good humour.

Here is a humorous anecdote: Malihabadi kept him away from drinking. Once he was invited by his friends to have a good time in the evening, he encounters a voluptuously beautiful dancing girl who was instrumental in introducing him to the taste of wine and the company of beautiful women.

The performers narrate a chapter from Malihabadi autobiography with his wife. It is witty, comical and a wife’s concern for her husband fearing that he has affairs. In this narration, the poet does not express his bitterness about his wife's behaviour who is critical about his lifestyle. Instead, in this narrative, love and understanding between wife and husband are revealed. Though known for his affairs, he married only once.

There is a poem which celebrates composite culture of India and display the sense of joie de vivre by Hindus and Muslim while celebrating Holi. There is an undercurrent of peaceful co-existence between different communities illustrated through his references to the Gita and the Quran.

Though the dominant mood of the production is one of light-hearted amusement, the denouement ending with the couplet: “Raje Almas Ke Tere Khas-O-Khashak Mein Hain, Haddiyan Apne Bujurgon Ki Tiri Khak Mein Hain… Ghar Jo Chhodange To Phir Chhawini Chhayenge Kahaan”, rendered in a melodious voice steeped in deep poignancy, stirred the soul of the audience.

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 11:22:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/the-life-and-times-of-josh/article28547832.ece

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