Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ismat Aapa Ke Naam…!!


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

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Foyer Voyeur..!


“When the chips are down, these civilized men won’t hesitate to eat each other!”

This is a dialogue from the movie The Dark Knight. This is where The Joker tries to explain to The Batman about the futility of standing up for the civilized society. The Joker had the best dialogues in the movie but I felt this was a little too much. I rolled my eyes back then. Later, the more I thought about it, the more it became evident. Scratch the surface, our holier-than-thou façade starts to fade and we can see the real self. The Self that The Joker was alluding to. The one that would not hesitate to kill The Other at the drop of a hat. It is well concealed beneath the pleasantries and the etiquettes. The real us is always lurking near the surface though. It’s like a bunch of vampires trying hard to lead a life between a bevy of beautiful girls. This façade nauseates me. Underneath the masquerade, everybody is a voyeur and a savage.

It is not a very unknown part of us. Man recognized his Frankenstein long back, but we have now started to feed the voyeur within us. It is despicable. Collect some celebrities and put them in a room full of cameras for the world to see. We all sit glued to it, fascinated, watching the celebrity eat and drink like us. It makes us feel better when we see that they too, break wind like us. And if not celebrities, bring a middle aged Mom to the hot seat and put her through the most uncomfortable and sadistic of questions and make her answer them for the lure of money. The audience won’t even know the name of the 50 something Mom and, in all probability, would never bump into her, yet they are transfixed to the seat during the commercial break post which she will reveal her husband’s role in her son’s birth. People forget to eat, they wait with bated breath as the skeletons tumble out of her closet.

The other day, Amma was watching something on her Tamil channel. It was the interview of a man who lost his limbs while trying to cross railway tracks. He explained how the railway station has no foot-over-bridge for people to cross over and said, amidst tears, how his life had grinded to a full stop after the accident. That he was the sole breadwinner of a poor family and how his illiterate wife now struggles to make both ends meet. It was immediately followed by the story of a Kid who was blinded in the Slumdog Millionaire style. The next week they were to air the story of a Kid who was raped by her father. I was all ears, disgusted with myself for being the voyeur that I was.

The other day, I was at the bus stop, at 12.30 AM. It was the last bus of the day and we were an impatient crowd waiting for it. It arrived finally and all hell broke loose. People jumped upon the bus like a pack of wolves over a solitary lamb. Forget about queue etiquettes and chivalry, even children were not spared. Once inside the bus did people realise that it was an empty bus. People were now smiling sheepishly at each other from the comforts of their window seats.

It disgusts me. When I see people craning their neck from the window of a bus to get a better view of the drunkard who is beating his wife or when people rush too see an accident site and are almost disappointed when there are no casualties. Or when I see civilized women pull each other’s hair in public over matters as quotidian as a window seat in a bus and when the other men stand on their seats to get a better view of the fight.

These educated educated people define a voyeur as the ‘one who peeps into the ladies’ rooms.’ What about the people who peep into other’s lives? Aren’t they voyeurs as well?