Theatre

Life through the laughter lens

Laugh Delhi laugh: Sohaila Kapur (extreme right) with her group rehearsing a scene from Paisa Bolta Hai.  

It is time to watch Ramesh Mehta’s evergreen comedy plays once again, at a three-day festival jointly organised by the Three Arts Club and Katyayani from September 28. Founded in 1943 by the late R.M. Kaul, the Three Arts Club in the course of its 40 years of creative life, pioneered a theatre movement in the Capital, laying the foundation for the growth of a theatre culture. Thanks to the tremendous efforts of Anuradha Dar, daughter of Kaul, the group emerged on the Delhi theatre landscape with a bang in 2008 after remaining defunct for more then two decades. These days Anuradha and Sohaila Kapur, a leading playwright, actor and director, are working overtime to make the forthcoming festival a grand success. Head of the Katyayani theatre group, Sohaila is directing all the plays — “Paisa Bolta Hai”, “Uljhan” and “Under Secretary”.

To be inaugurated by Anuradha Kapur, director of the National School of Drama, the event is likely to rekindle exciting childhood memories for her, since she (Anuradha Kapur) worked as a child artiste in the plays produced by the Three Arts Club and was introduced to Jawaharlal Nehru once after the curtain call. Playing the role of Grandfather in one of the festival plays, 85-year-old B.L. Tandon, a stage, TV and film actor, has a long association with the Three Arts Club. He has fond memories of great personalities like Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. Zakir Hussain as well as theatre luminaries such as Prithviraj Kapoor, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, watching their shows showering praises on the performers remarkable for their energy and single-minded commitment to their art.

Anuradha Dar, worried about funding to help perpetuate her father’s legacy by keeping alive the momentum of Three Arts, says the Union Ministry of Culture has turned a deaf ear to her request for financial assistance.

The event has special significance for director Sohaila, “So far I have been doing English plays. With this festival, I am stepping into Hindi theatre. I want to reach a wider audience and to take my productions beyond Delhi. This is only possible if I do plays in Hindi.” There is something else that makes Sohaila sentimental. “I want to pamper those memories of my aunt Mrs Uma Sahay and her husband Mr. Bharat Sahay who were very much part of the Three Arts Club as actors as well as organisers. For me it is the revival of memories of some of the happiest hours watching those plays by Ramesh Mehta. He was my inspiration.”

Honoured by several leading cultural bodies including the Sangeet Natak Akademi for his contribution to Indian theatre as an actor, Ramesh Mehta is today mostly known in the Hindi region for his plays, especially “Under Secretary”, “Roti Aur Beti”, “Paisa Bolta Hai”, “Aur Bhagwan Dekhta Raha”, “Uljhan”, “Faisla” and “Bade Admi”. Most of these comically expose Delhi’s emerging middle class in the ’60s that mostly came from small towns in search of greener pastures.

Are these plays still relevant, their comic flavour still fresh? “In essence all the three plays featuring in the festival are contemporary. I think he foresaw how the middle class will acquire its distinct idiosyncrasy. His pet theme was the hypocrisy of the middle class and its arrogance with increasing money power and opportunism to climb up the social ladder,” says Sohaila.

Has she edited the original scripts to give them a contemporary look? “I am paying tribute to an artist who made significant contribution to Hindi comedy as well as style of acting in comic roles. I did little editing. We must treat these plays the way he did. These productions are not adapted versions.”

These comedies for years entertained audiences by the hundreds in the heyday of the Three Arts Club. With and their inherent comic vitality, the awkwardness of situations and the incongruity of the human relations depicted, the festival promises to delight theatre-goers.

The line-up

The festival opens with “Paisa Bolta Hai” which revolves round a middle class family who treats its guest from a small town like a domestic help. Suddenly he has a windfall from a lottery. The members of the family, who so far have been humiliating him in various ways, now quarrel like dogs to isolate each other and win the guest’s favour. With the sudden change in status, the guest too changes colours.

On the second evening comes “Uljhan” which is set in a metropolitan city where different characters come from different regions. The central character is a young man who is desperate to make it big in the city. He is pompous, hypocritical and keeps borrowing money. In the process he gets entangled in the web of deception of his own making. Enters a clever and beautiful girl, who turns the tables on him.

The festival concludes with “Under Secretary” which deals with the hypocrisy of the wife of a clerk who claims that her husband is an under secretary. One day her close friend informs her that she and her husband, a senior officer, will visit her. To impress her friend, household belongings are replaced by borrowed ones, and a handsome neighbour is requested to act as the husband of the woman. Her own husband is assigned for the role of the domestic help. Everything is turned topsy-turvy.

The festival takes place September 28-30, Shri Ram Centre, Safdar Hashmi Marg, Mandi House, New Delhi, 6.30 p.m. daily


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