Three literary figures come alive in ‘Jaane Vo Kaise Log The’

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With deft touches, Abhinay Banker creates (Day Six, Sunday to Sunday Theatre Festival) characters, both major and minor, and the time they belong to in his two-act play Jaane Vo Kaise Log The at Natarani amphitheatre chock-a-block dominantly with keen young theatre lovers. To a man they cheerily respond to the two levels of experience diametrically opposite in nature he creates minutely paying attention to all aspects of theatre. That Abhinay reassuringly combines theatre skills he has learnt with the literary reading he keeps pursuing cannot go unnoticed.

He introduces three literary figures of our time having exceptional sensibility and daring. Two of them, Urdu writers Ismat Chughtai and Saadat Hasan Manto, were embroiled in a court trial in Lahore for alleged obscenity in their fiction. Amrita Pritam, a Punjabi novelist and poet who also wrote in Hindi, had the pluck to walk out on her husband at a young age, live with a literary celebrity and finally spend the rest of her life without traditional marriage but with ‘a marriage of true minds’ along with an artist.

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The play is a fine mosaic of stories and episodes from the life and works by the gifted trio. Summoned to the court, Chughtai stands by her convictions regarding female sexuality and its expression that are at the centre of the controversy as regards her story Lihaaf (Quilt). In a quietly combative conversation she tells Aslam Sahab, ‘I feel no need to ask of you the right of my freedom to write.’ Megha Vyas as Ismat effortlessly brings uprightness in her stance, puts conviction in her voice and expresses an unbending temperament. In his rejoinders to charges of vulgarity in Boo (Smell) with reference to specific words like ‘breasts’, Mayur Chauhan’s Manto emerges steadfast and inflexible. He cites in fact the example of Sultana and her sister Saugandhi and says with a fluent defiance, ‘A prostitute’s place is a corpse society has been carrying on its shoulders. Face up to this fact.’

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Abhinay has his signature style of evoking the ambience, particularly of a bygone time. He ushers in Devaki as Amrita Pritam on a dimly lit stage with Ludhianvi’s ever-fresh lines Jaane kya tune kahi … wafting out from who-knows-where. Almost simultaneously, he has her Wild Flower sweet girl Angoori enter with her tiny world of angochha and anklet and a mystical wildflower. Tarjanee as Angoori hops about light as air with her ringing innocent tale. Their crisp interaction lyrically introduces both the poet and the maid – both the actors as well.

Devaki has Amrita Pritam come to life with mellowness, empathy and her poetry. Maine jab teri sej par pair rakha tha … a hush greeted her recite the beautiful lines … main ek nahi-n thi do thi / ‘ One married, the other a maiden both equally pure.’ Earlier, she had given a taste of her characteristic writing in Hindi. In translation it is  ‘I looked at Angoori’s face, her breasts and her arms. Her flesh was tightly kneaded. I had seen her Parbhati too. He was short and withered. He certainly did not deserve to eat such well-kneaded dough. … and I laughed at myself for comparing flesh to dough.’

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The director has the knack of bringing on stage what is in the text. The Mahammad episode penned by Manto, though stretched a bit pre-interval, was hilarious with Sanjay Galsar as the mustachioed wrestler-like central character with a skeletal figure who faints at the sight of a doctor’s syringe. Nikita gives a brilliant portrayal of a bubbling young Aalima for whom Abdul Hai, played with ease by Ojas, falls. They were among the smart badminton players who initially brought the stage alive. She makes a momentary lyrical comeback later as Begam giving a hug to Ismat.

Actors even with small roles look pretty natural. Costumes designed or selected by Pauravi Joshi help them get into the mood. Abhinay handles the lights.

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Photo courtesy: Zenith Banker

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