And then there were three

Chughtai makes for a very intriguing personality and a very stage-worthy character indeed

Updated - October 18, 2016 12:48 pm IST

Published - August 04, 2016 04:51 pm IST - Chennai

New Delhi, 03/08/2016:  To go with Swati Daftur's Story -- Writer Novelist Anuradha Marwah at her residence in New Delhi on August 03,2016.  Photo: R. V. Moorthy

New Delhi, 03/08/2016: To go with Swati Daftur's Story -- Writer Novelist Anuradha Marwah at her residence in New Delhi on August 03,2016. Photo: R. V. Moorthy

About 230 plays were submitted this year for The Hindu Playwright Award. The award, which carries a prize of Rs. 2 lakh for the best unpublished and unperformed script in English, was instituted in 2008 to act as a catalyst for original Indian theatre in English.

A panel of judges long-listed eight entries, after which three plays were shortlisted. These are Anuradha Marwah’s Ismat’s Love Stories, Meera Sitaraman’s The Cut and Thomas Manuel’s Hamlet and Angad.

Over the next three editions of MetroPlus, the three writers will discuss their work, ideas and inspiration.

Anuradha Marwah on Ismat’s Love Stories

With three published novels, Delhi-based writer Anuradha Marwah comes from what she calls a “background of novel writing”. It was only 10 years ago that she decided to try her hand at writing plays, and today, Marwah finds her latest work, Ismat’s Love Stories , shortlisted for The Hindu Playwright Award, 2016.

An English play that Marwah calls a “fictional reconstruction of Ismat Chughtai and Sa’adat Hasan Manto’s association in the 1940s”, Ismat’s Love Stories is “the result of {Marwah’s} growing relationship with theatre and Ismat Chughtai”. Speaking about what inspired her to work on this particular story, Marwah says, “I started to think about a full-length play on her in English last year, while working with pandies’ theatre on a multilingual play-project on the writings of three progressive writers: Premchand, Manto, and Ismat Chughtai”, referring to pandies’ theatre’s Crooked Kala(a)m .

For Marwah, Chughtai makes for a “very intriguing personality and a very stage-worthy character indeed”. “I found her language very striking — there is a distinct ‘female’ quality to it. Later on, I discovered that in Urdu criticism, she is indeed credited with this innovation — for using ‘Begumati zubaan’ as a creative vehicle. And of course, the performative element is very pronounced in her work.”

In the author’s note of the script, Marwah credits My Friend, My Enemy: Essays, Reminiscences, Portraits by Ismat Chughtai, translated from original Urdu by Tahira Naqvi, Ismat Chughtai by Saadat Hasan Manto and Terhi Lakeer by Ismat Chughtai as sources of both inspiration and information. During this research, Marwah says that Chughtai’s “mercurial friendship with the enfant terrible of Urdu literature, Saadat Hasan Manto”, fascinated her. “There is a view that Ismat was not very happy in her marriage and that Shahid Latif was jealous of her success. Definitely, she doesn’t speak much about her marriage. There were rumours about a romantic liaison between Manto and her. Manto is characteristically outspoken in countering these rumours; she is once again silent, never once acknowledging them,” she adds.

The result of Marwah’s research and fascination with this complex, intense relationship is a play that brings to the stage “delightful anecdotes” of the writers’ relationship — a play about love and irreverence, and about the times that both were born in. Marwah also explores the differences in opinion between the two writers. “For instance, she denounced him when he decided to migrate to Pakistan in 1948. She was idealistically patriotic.”

It is the dramatic element of the story that has held the most sway for Marwah. “I’ve been looking at this play as a sort of fictional biography. I would say that the facts are important, but the dramatic element is even more important. The play is a fine balance between fact and fiction, but tips in favour of fiction,” she says.

The biggest challenge, Marwah says, was communicating Chughtai’s sensibility — an instinctive performative feminism — to those who are far from the ethos of Urdu. “These characters are thinking and speaking in Urdu, and I was trying to recreate this in English.” In order to give a “sense of Urdu”, Marwah says that she’s used a “kind of stylised English”, at some points in the story. “I’ve used expressions that one wouldn’t use in normal English, a more curvaceous sort of language.”

As she readies the play for production, Marwah talks about constantly revisiting the script and making changes. “It’s an ongoing process, and working on a script is really very different from novel writing. There is a constant back and forth with the director and actors, who get back to me with their suggestions about what would work on stage, and what won’t.”

(Tomorrow watch out for an interview with Meera Sitaraman, playwright of The Cut )

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