Friday Review

Ample room for interpretation

A scene from “Doosra Kamra”.

A scene from “Doosra Kamra”.   | Photo Credit: 17dfrDoosra Kamra

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Zahida Zaidi’s absurdist play “Doosra Kamra” finds a new meaning under the astute direction of Madihur Rahman Suhaib.

In his highly acclaimed memoir “And Then One Day”, famous film actor Naseeruddin Shah talks about “a feisty lady in the English department” of Aligarh Muslim University who introduced him to Oliver Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer”, Eugene Ionesco’s “The Lesson” and “The Chairs”, Edward Albee’s “Zoo Story”, Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”, Anton Chekhov’s “A Proposal” and many other Continental plays. The ‘feisty lady teacher’ also directed the performance of these plays and in a chapter suitably titled “The Aligarh University Absurdists”, Shah fondly remembers this lady for her “perceptiveness and intellectual capacity” who “proved to be a benefactor in many ways”. “She introduced me to literature I might not otherwise have read,” writes Shah.

This feisty lady was Zahida Zaidi (1930—2011) who has written numerous plays and has many collections of poetry in Urdu and English. She also wrote “Inqilab Ka Ek Din”, one of the few campus novels in Urdu. She also translated a number of Continental plays in Urdu. In the field of Urdu drama she is really a pioneer, a fact that has not always been acknowledged because the feisty professor of English was never a part of the literary politics of her time and she always spoke her mind without mincing words.

Written in 1984, Zahida Zaidi’s Urdu play “Doosra Kamra”(The Other Room) was performed recently at Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Ambedkar University, Delhi and Shimla’s historic Gaiety Theatre. A Dream Weavers Theatre Group Production, the gripping play of one-hour duration was directed by Madihur Rahman Suhaib.

True to Naseeruddin Shah’s description, “Doosra Kamra” is an absurdist play which breaks away from the popular tradition of realism and romance. The plot of the play puts at the centre a working middle class couple, Suraj and Sonia (played by two young actors Shahrukh and Pratibha),who remain confined to their two-room house in an urban set up. The entire action of the play takes place inside one room of the house, with some visitors, most importantly their friend Shabana (played by Arsh) dropping in the house at some awkward moments.

The other room gradually emerges as a very powerful and scary presence in the play, instilling fear in the two main characters and generating tension and uneasiness in the minds of the audience. The key elements in the play are chaos and clutter in the physical setting and their analogical equivalent in the form of the inexplicable, the mysterious and the unexpected haunting the psychic-emotional states of characters. If the space beneath the divan in the outer room hides Suraj’s clutter, the other room contains all possible clutter of Sonia. This is the room where naked dead bodies start appearing and then increasing in number, much beyond the comprehension of the protagonists and the audience.

The minimalist use of stagecraft in the play ensures that the other room is not shown from inside and the audience remain doubtful whether Suraj and Sonia really see those bodies or they are living a bad dream. The props on the stage are also bare minimum – some clothes scattered in the living room, a water bottle and two glasses on the table, a sofa and a divan – but they do bring out the disorder in the lives of characters. Repeated references to burial and the characters’ obsession with closed doors and closed windows achieve a claustrophobic effect in the play.

The play makes a very good use of some iconic signs. Sonia’s act of lighting up cigarettes regularly not only reveals her an emancipated woman but also her troubled emotional state. Much in the manner of absurdist plays, the action in “Doosra Kamra” defies accepted logic and an easy cause and effect relationship between incidents in the play. The main characters become the victims of forces which they cannot understand, much less explain. Their worry to dispose off or bury those bodies somewhere in the house keeps them in a permanent state of fear and panic. The presence of the irrational in their lives affects them deeply but it cannot be explained by anyone.

Like in many psychological plays in “Doosra Kamra” the line between dream and reality is blurred. Shabana’s dream appears real to her in terms of its effects. Sonia interprets her dream in Freudian terms. Suraj and Sonia keep wondering if the irrational in their life is a dream or it is real. In fact, they seek some kind of opening from their troubled state not by desiring the fulfilment of a beautiful dream but rather in the break of their nightmarish dream-like existence.

Continental absurdist drama was not devoid of its element of topicality and its share of humour. “Doosra Kamra” subtly touches themes of marital incompatibility and suppressed sexuality. It also has an ironic take on the so called emancipated woman. Suraj and Sonia share a very cold relationship which is dominated by Sonia all the time. These themes are realised with a lot of subtlety and there are never any loud moments in the play. Use of chaste Urdu expressions imparts a sophisticated air to the play.

There is rich humour in the play though no broad smiles and uproarious laughter. The humour is very ably brought out by the timing of the actors, especially Shahrukh, who also got an award for his performance in both Jamia and Ambedkar University. Adding something to the character of Suraj, Shahrukh is able to maintain the same troubled face throughout the play and deliver his funny lines with a deadpan expression. But an element of morbidity touches even the humorous side of the play especially in those risqué lines where Suraj blames Sonia for staring at those naked male bodies.

The inexplicable in Zahida Zaidi’s powerful absurdist play can also appear incredulous in a different sense today. The audiences’ permanent state of doubt about what is real or unreal in their world of image-created reality can open another line of investigation for the play.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 10:06:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Ample-room-for-interpretation/article14425992.ece

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