I was looking forward to this day a lot. I had tickets for the Motley Theatre Fest’s play ‘Ismat Aapa Ke Naam’. It is the enactment of three short stories by the famed and controversial Urdu writer, Ismat Chugtai. Motley prefers to call it a story telling session, but it is an enactment actually. With no change to the original dialogues, minimal props and despite having only one actor for each story, it still didn’t come across as a story telling session. It was enacted by three masters, from the same family – Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak and Heeba Shah.
I saw the last two Motley plays at Prithvi (Bombay’s Mecca of theatre) and NCPA ( Mecca II, maybe!) respectively and I knew that a certain B.N. Vaidya Hall (What a dicey name!), however good it may be, would disappoint me. I was not wrong. It turned out to be King George school’s (Predictably renamed as Raje Shivaji School) auditorium. The crowd too, was the all too familiar assortment of the too affable, art loving, bourgeoisie intelligentsia. Everyone, with the exception of my friend and me, seemed to know each other. The only consolation was that there were more younger people. The last time, at NCPA, we were the only 20 something among a crowd of 100 people who had come to see ‘The Caine Mutiny Court Martial’. Everyone seemed to be on the wrong side of the 60s there.
The play (or should I say, the story telling session) began at 8.00 PM as scheduled. And right away, we were transported to middle class Muslim families in U.P.
The name of the first story was ‘Chui Mui’ and was portrayed by Heeba Shah. Her diction and narration was flawless, as she told us the story of a pregnant Bhabhi Jan from the eyes of a young girl. It hit me in the face, the contrast between the pampered rich Bhabhi Jan, and a poor woman.
I was still applauding for Heeba Shah when the second story began almost immediately (No props, you see!). It was the moment I was waiting for. It was ‘Mughal Bachha’, Ratna Pathak’s turn. My Friend and I, are unabashed admirers of Ratna Pathak, and were very keen to see her performing an Urdu rendition.She looks more stunning in real life than in TV. Her tone, her pitch and those expressions were picture perfect. To say that she played her part with panache, would only state the obvious. Or perhaps it is a huge understatement.
They had reserved the best for the last. Pop! Jumped in Naseeruddin Shah with a delightful comic caper. The name of the story was “Gharwali” and I don’t think lust was ever portrayed in such a funny manner and not once did it appear raunchy. From the feisty, carefree Lajjo to the bumbling, old bachelor Mirza, Naseer jumped in and out of characters with ease, as the audience watched, mesmerised. He had the audience guffawing one moment, and sit upright the very next moment. His mastery of the art shone through his performance which, was the cherry on the cake, literally!
In the end, I realised I was standing, clapping loudly like small kid who’s just seen the magician pull a rabbit out of his hat!
P.S.: Tomorrow is the grand finale of the Motley Fest as they perform their most famous, longest running play – Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot.’ I doubt if I’ll be able to sleep tonight..!! :D