Theatre Review: Celebrating Gulzar’s Works:

Between last Thursday and Sunday, Prithvi Theatre was showcasing Essay Communication’s work, which is a set of collage woven around Gulzar’s works – Kharashein capturing communal riots and relationships around partition, Lakeerein capturing border/LoC stories, Atthaniyan capturing Mumbai snippets, and (apparently) Kacche Lamhe capturing man-woman relationships. The high point of the week, however, was the poetry reading session by Gulzar Sahab on Sunday morning.

My first distinct memory of Gulzar’s voice is an HMV tape “Fursat ke raat din” (not the two cassette/CD version which came later,  but the older single cassette version). I’ve always been a great fan of his nazms and poems ever since –

“तन्हाई खला नही होती, इसलिये खाली भी नही होती”

“tanhaaI khalaa nahI hotI, isaliye khaalI bhI nahI hotI”
<Solitude is not a bother, and hence, never empty>

“ईक रोज़ ज़िन्दगी ने हंस के कहा.. मुझ से यूं रूठा ना करो.. मैं तुम्हारि जुड्वा हूं”

“Ik roz zindagI ne haMs ke kahaa.. mujh se yUM rooThaa naa karo.. maiM tumhaari juDwaa hooM”
<Life once said to me.. don’t be so mad at me. I am your twin, after all>

In the 2 casette collection – Pancham- Gulzar Remembers RD Burman, Gulzar said –

“मैं क्या बताऊं कि ईक बेहता दरिया हूं… जब आ रहा था, तब जा रहा था”

“maiM kyaa bataaooM ki Ik behataa dariyaa hooM… jab aa rahaa thaa, tab jaa rahaa thaa”
<How do I tell you that I am a river, flowing in its stride… While I was coming hither, I was leaving too>

“तुम्हारे गम की दली उठा कर, जुबां पे रख ली है देखो मैने… वो कतरा कतरा पिघल रही है, मैं कतरा कतरा ही जी रहा हूं”

“tumhaare gam kI dalI uThaa kar, jubaaM pe rakh lI hai dekho maine… wo kataraa kataraa pighal rahI hai, maiM kataraa kataraa hI jI rahaa hooM”

<A lump of your pain, I’ve put on my tongue… it melts with every moment.. and I live with every moment>

And yesterday, he said,

“फिर किसी दर्द को सहला के सूजा लें आंखें, फिर किसी दुख्ती हुई रग से छुआ लें नश्तर”,

“आ के देख जाओ इक बार ज़रा, उस शाख पे एक फूल खिला है”

Anyways, coming back to the productions that I saw. I missed out on Kachche Lamhe. But saw, the other three.

Kharashein – was, sans the brilliant acting by Yashpal Sharma, Atul Kulkarni and Kishore Kadam, average fare. It is difficult to elevate yourself to the level of Gulzar’s poetry, and weave a narration that links them all together. Even more difficult is to portray the essence of those poems. And even more difficult it becomes, if you are obsessed with giving your incompetent relatives an important part in the narration. Salim Arif (Director) has a misplaced confidence in Lubna Salim (who happens to be the producer of the show as well). She, in a very harsh voice completely unbecoming of the curves and nuances of Urdu language, and with a deliberate desire to brutally murder the spirit of the poems, picks plum roles for herself. In certain acts, she even wants to be the narrator, taking on a responsibility which is so very dependent on understanding what is to be said, and then having the right voice modulation and expression to convey it. Alas, she has neither. That being said, the overall product was definitely watchable once. The three main guys were absolutely brilliant.

Lakeerein – I have already complained about Salim’s obsession with Lubna, OR, Lubna’s obsession with herself. Next, lets add a random lady (Seema Sehgal) who’d be walking in and out of the stage trying to give notes to the poetry, and in many cases, forgetting that poetry is more about expression, and less about aalaap. In between acts, a lady walking on to the stage with a full aalaap (which on many occasions, was not even in sur) is a huge distraction. And she seemed more inclined to prove her shastriya sangeet skills, then doing justice to the poetry. Add to that, a sub-standard starcast (today, the load was being carried by Yashpal alone), and you have a really really bad narration. A friend of mine, for whom I had booked tickets for the subsequent show of Atthaniyaan as well, refused to watch the other acts after seeing this one. That bad, yes. No more comments.

Atthaniyaan – Please take Lubna Salim out of the acting side of this troupe. Please add someone half as good as Yashpal, and you would have had a watchable play. Please work on the diction of the actors. Those who do not even understand what they are mouthing, and cannot feel the pain, the joy, the agony, the frustrations of the characters they are portraying, and the language they are using, can NEVER do justice to the character. You don’t need to become a method actor, but a certain level of understanding is expected. The narration/play had at least 5 people consuming limited stage space, who were not used for anything specific, but to sing in Chorus all the time. They even had a dimwit recite an English translation of a Gulzar poem, with a perfect deadpan expression. She wouldn’t have a standard four elocution competition, and you are putting her in front of 250 odd people in a play??? And why the translation, when you have an audience which is expecting to hear the original. And when the legend is sitting as part of the audience. Why?

So, the plays, in general, did not work for me. I would not recommend them to anyone.

This brings me to the last part. The part that worked – the poetry reading session with Gulzar Sahab. The first session was a Q&A with Bhawna Somaya, who is a pretty well known journalist herself. During the conversation, it seemed like  she wasn’t really prepared with a lot of research/questions on what to ask and expect. Javed Siddiqui, who was also on stage, and Gulzar took quite a trip on Mrs. Somaya.  It was fun, the conversation, that is. The audience got its chance to ask questions, and barring a couple, the average intelligence of the masses being below average was proved again, beyond doubt.

However, the moment, Gulzar Sahab took to the podium to recite some of his Nazms and Trivenis, it was like watching a sunset on bandstand. People found their corners in the rocky beaches of understanding, and settled down to let the beauty unfold. The imagery was perfect, the rendition flawless and the voice magical. If someone wants to learn what diction should be like, they should listen to Gulzar. The right weight, the right modulation, the exact emphasis, the perfect volume – there is absolutely nothing that he misses. Just listening to him talk is a tutorial by itself. The same poems that were massacred by Lubna Salim and co, were brought back to life by Gulzar. Such beauty.. In that one hour, there was no-one else, and nothing more important. If I had to imitate his style of poetry, I would say something like –

जाने कैसी बात थी
जब तुम्हारे लफ़्ज़ों ने मेरी आंखों पर
सफ़ेद इक पट्टी बांध के
आहिस्ता से मेरे कानों में कहा

ज़रा ठहरो, अभी शाम बाकी है…

गुलज़ार सहिब, हम एक बार फिर आप के कायल हो गये!

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