The four-day 28th Urdu Drama Festival organised by Urdu Academy, Delhi at Shri Ram Centre ended with the presentation of “Ek Nishani Ghalib Ki” by Eden Art And Cultural Society this past week to a jam-packed house. Over the years, Urdu Academy’s drama festival has acquired an important place in the cultural landscape of the Capital as an important event to celebrate India’s composite cultural ethos. At the just ended festival, the lovers of the theatre were offered plays that charmed the audience with the variety of themes and presentational styles.
The festival opened with “Maulana Azad Ki Yaad Mein” presented by Pierrot Troupe and was directed and written by Dr. M. Sayeed Alam, one of our sensitive and imaginative theatre practitioners. Based on Maulana Azad’s “Ghubar-e- Khatir”, considered a masterpiece of Urdu literature, the play projects various aspects of Azad’s life at different stages of his life by using four characters representing his growth at different age. A freedom fighter, educationist, thinker and statesman, Maulana at the age of 57, reflects on his past life, especially his life in jail and his conversation with Jawaharlal Nehru over tea about tea is acted out by Tom Alter. The past is brought to life through flashback . To make narrative more coherent, the director has effectively used voice-over.
The entire stage is effectively used to make transition of the present to the past and vice versa. Maulana Azad occupies his place on a sofa downstage right. Flashback scenes are enacted downstage left and some scenes are enacted on the centre stage and one upstage. The production is tastefully designed to evoke the right mood. The director has imparted a light and unpretentious touch to his production which creates a lively and warm atmosphere which evokes tender humour with a tinge of nostalgia.
Veteran actor, Tom Alter’s portrait of Maulana Azad is marked by deftness and subtlety. However, because of lack of adequate sound system, some parts of his dialogue are not audible. M. Syeed Alam as Maulana Azad (aged between 35 and 45) gives brilliant performance. His accent is impeccable, his dialogue delivery conveys the dramatic meaning of his character in a clear and powerful manner.
Presented by Nautanki Rangshala, “Biwion Ka Madarsa” is a comic exposure of the idiosyncrasies of an ageing man who fancies to marry a young girl who is living under his guardianship. He has alienated her from the mainstream social life, forcing her to live under the constant watch of two servants. He teaches her how to be an obedient wife and how to keep at bay the male friends of her husband. Confined to a lonely house, the bored girl has lost her mother when she was a mere infant and does not know about her father. She falls for a young man who dares to enter her room despite formidable obstacles. On the other hand, the ageing man is all agog with the thought of marrying the young girl soon. There are several comic situations that keep the audience in an amusing mood. In this battle for love, the young man becomes victorious and the ageing man meets an ignominious defeat.
An adaptation of “School for Wives” by Moliere, the Hindustani version is written by Satya Prakash. Directed by Kailash Joshi who also plays the role of the ageing man desperate to marry the young girl. The production begins with the rendition of Sufi songs at a shrine where the ageing man is praying for the fulfilment of his wish to marry the girl. This scene tends to be mere embellishment and is incongruous to the comic rhythm the production tries to create. Two large objects are placed in the scene of the park where the young man in love with the girl talks about his love affair with the ageing man without knowing that the man is his arch rival. An ordinary bench would have served the purpose. The pace is slow and the acting style should have combined elements of slapstick.
Sparkling with humour, “Pehle Aap” presented by Antraal Theatre Group at the festival is remarkable for capturing the splendour, sophistication and refined manners of aristocrats of Lucknow in a comic vein. Written by Dr. Iftekhar Alam, the play is far above the stereotyped dramas about communal harmony. “Pehle Aap” does not preach. Beneath its pleasant comic surface, lies a message of the beauty of living in a society free from communal discord. In a subtle manner it shows an enlightened civil society can frustrate the evil designs of communal forces to divide society on the basis of religion.
Young director Fahad Khan deserves admiration for his slick production and exploration of Lucknow’s high social etiquette summed up in “Pehle Aap” phrase with a touch of parody. We meet affectionate dramatis personae like Rai Sahab, Nawab Kabban Miyaan, Mishra Babu, Pyare Miyaan and Jhumman Miyaan. These members of feudal aristocracy spend hours in playing chess oblivious of what is happening in their surroundings and to the utter annoyance of their spouse. Considering Lucknow a suitable town to flare-up communal violence, two anti-social elements – one Hindu and his Muslim friend – land in the town. The Muslim meets Nawab Kabbaban Miyaan and the Hindu meets Rai Sahab. They tell an imaginary tale of horror of violence perpetrated on their community in a communal carnage. Now Rai Sahab with a tiny kitchen knife with a beautifully painted handle meet Nawab Sahab to take the revenge against Muslims who allegedly killed Hindus and Nawab Sahab is also ready to take revenge against Hindus. But he has no weapon to fight. The wife of Shabban Miyaan comes forward, offers him toothpick. Now two persons are ready for a fight-to-finish. Now the question is who should strike first. With the ‘deadly weapon’ on their hand, they say in the most courteous voice, ‘Pehle Aap’. The refrain of ‘Pehle Aap’ continues for a long time – this is a situation which evokes laughter, long and loud. Disappointed by this ‘fight to finish’ between a Hindu and Muslim, the agent-provocateurs flee from the town. Another shock awaited them when they find themselves unable to distinguish between Hindu and Muslim who speak the same language and wear similar type of clothes.
Costumes designed by Daalchand add grandeur to the production. The offstage tender instrumental tunes based on Awadhi folk and Hindustani classical music heightened atmosphere. Suraj Pratap Singh as Rai Sahab, Anshuman Rounak as Nawab Kabban Miyaan, Tejeshwar Singh as Mishra Babu, Gurinder Singh as Pyaare Miyaan and Atul Singh as Jhumman Miyaan display their fine comic talent.
Written and directed by Dr. Ishrat Kafeel, “Ek Nishani Ghalib Ki” is a satire on social and cultural organisations that pursue their self-interest by exploiting the memory of Mirza Ghalib and his great poetry.
The spoof centres on a shoe discovered in the rubble left near the dilapidated house of Ghalib. The local political and social workers and pseudo-lovers of the Urdu literature declare that this single shoe belonged to Ghalib. Soon the shoe acquires celebrity status and kept in a big glass jar to be looked after by a guard. People started visiting the place from far and near to see Ghalib’s shoe, resulting in the fierce competition among cultural and literary bodies to take control of the shoe.
Writer-director Dr. Kafeel needs to tighten the loose ends of his production. The mass scenes are inadequately rehearsed. The way the conflict is resolved tends to be facile and contrived to be convincing.
Masood Hashmi as Fakeer brings to life Ghalib’s great poetic pieces to the delight of the audience. His recitation of couplets in his powerful and clear voice, his long unkempt hair and outlandish costume make him a centre ofattraction. Nikita Bedi as Ayesha Deewan, a TV journalist, makes her character lively.