Theatre

Silent emotions

WHEN YOU SAY NOTHING AT ALL Irshad Panjatan enjoys going down memory lane Photos: Nagara Gopal  

In the 1950s, internationally acclaimed pantomime artiste, Irshad Panjatan visited Cherrapunji, known for its ‘all-through-the-year’ rain.. And to his luck that particular day it did not rain. “That made the locals happy, but I was disappointed. That day I realised my presence could be the cause of someone’s happiness,” he smiles.



If Irshad Panjatan, who is in a league of his own and who introduced the art of Pantomime to India in the early 1960s’ has to be described, then he is best described as someone who creates poetry in silence.



The well-known economist and diplomat, the late Abid Husain was one of the seven siblings of Irshad Panjatan. At the age of Eighty when it’s over several years since he stopped performing professionally, Irshad came visiting his home town — Hyderabad. The aviation engineer left his job and the city in 1950 to pursue a career in arts. “I guess I am visiting my city after five years. I have come over to see my family and spend some good time with my brothers and their children,” he says.



And when Tom Chacha (that’s how he is called by everyone younger to him) is in town, the atmosphere in the evenings at friends and family gets louder and merrier.



Age might be showing over his drooping shoulders and wrinkles, yet, the octogenarian’s firm yet warm handshake can put many youngsters to shame. And now when Irshad settles to talk about his long journey of Pantomime and his adventures, he cannot decide a befitting intro.



“Five years back when I was in India it was for a festival. It was called ‘Festival of no words.’ I was invited by Amol Palekar and his wife for the event and I was thrilled to see the importance and respect they gave to pantomime. That day I performed the ‘Walk of Life,’” he recollects



And as he does so the child-like enthusiasm in him reflects in the interplay of body movements and facial language. Still, well coordinated and as swift. Irshad explains, “Silence is a different language. It gives us the opportunity to emote and express ourselves better. Be it a jilted lover, or an anxious thief or an inquisitive child, it’s a few moments of silence that give them all the answers they are seeking.”



Four decades ago, Irshad was a part of eminent writer, social activist and theatre personality Begum Qudsia Zaidi’s famous Hindustani Theatre “and then we mostly presented plays based on ancient Sanskrit stories. In 1957, in one such play —Charudatta, there was a night theft scene which required me to act without mouthing words. That made me understand the significance of mime. Until then, I had no idea what pantomime was.”



Instantly he was written about. A review in a magazine called Marg baffled him. “It said very good Pantomime. And I set out to discover Pantomime,” he says.



Years later when the Hindustani theatre closed, it gave Irshad time to devote to mime. Around this time for the first time he met a mime artiste randomly on the streets of Delhi and in an hour gathered as much knowledge as he could. “Now it was time for me to practice and improvise. “Since I didn’t have a guru, I recollected how we used to begin our plays with the theatre group. We would begin with a Shiva’s Sloka and that gave me a lot of energy. So like Ekalavya, who made Drona (whom he never met) his guru, I made lord Shiva my guru. I bought a statue of Lord Shiva and made him my master,” he recollects.



Irshad felt like he’s the one-eyed-jack since no one else did Pantomime in the country. His friends who were journalists criticised him and provoked him to see if he has a chance to improvise. “I decided to hit the road and set out looking for a scope to improve. With Rs. 5 in my pocket I left the country. My first stop was Lahore Women’s college where even a male bird wasn’t allowed to look down at while on his flight. I performed there and earned Rs. 350 and from there on, there was no stopping. Finally I reached Germany, I bought a car and settled down,” he smiles.



A soloist with a large repertoire of items, Irshad has performed all over the world. But pantomime is not just a medley of comic presentations, it is meant to convey thought-provoking messages also, he clarifies. He credits children, art critics and friends for helping him hone his ‘silent’ skills to greater accuracy. “Children are highly observant and frank. Their remarks helped me improve a lot,” says he. And since then Panjatan has also made it to a number of films. “I have acted in a number of German films. And it’s my non-German look that lands me movies. These days I also do the one scene roles. In my retired life, if for a few hours I am offered 5-star hospitality and all the pampering, why will I refuse?” he laughs.


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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 9:37:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/silent-emotions/article3631252.ece

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