Saturday, 1 December 2007

Naseer pays tribute to Ismat Chughtai


Syed Akbar
In his first-ever Hindustani language production, Ismat Aapa Ke Naam, actor-turned-director Naseeruddin Shah brings out the little known facet of eminent Urdu fiction writer Ismat Chughtai. The play will be staged in Hyderabad on Thursday.
Shah has based his satirical play on three of Ismat’s stories, throwing light on the nature of human relationships and the institution of marriage.
Ismat Aapa Ke Naam is a solo enactment of this witty, wise, warm and wonderful Urdu writer and Naseeruddin Shah pours life into the play with his inimitable acting style.
The first one Gharwali enacted by Shah himself is a heady satire on the institution of marriage, as well as on the social mores of the times (the 1940s).
"The amazing thing is that Ismat Aapa’s observations on the nature of human relationships are as pungent and ring as true today as they did when she was first writing and enraging the hordes of male chauvinists she was, in all probability, surrounded by," says Shah.
The second part, Chhui Muee, is enacted by Shah’s daughter Heeba. It is a tribute to the power of the rural women, expressed through an incident of childbirth witnessed by three fascinated and differently affected women in a compartment. It is a first person account. "It could well be a personal experience of the writer," he feels.
Mughal Bachcha is the third part of the Ismat Aapa Ke Naam series. Shah’s wife Ratna play the lead role. She talks about the so-called "successors" of the great Mughals, the landed gentry of Uttar Pradesh in the times of the British Raj unable to come to terms with their declining status and desperately clinging on to the tattered remnants of their ancestors’ glory.
Within this wry and perceptive social commentary is interwoven a love story of epic proportions: The story of Gori Bi and Kaley Mian. Simplicity of approach is the defining factor in this production with minimalist sets and simple manner of telling a story. It has a no-frills austerity of the director’s approach.
The purpose is to not get in the way of the original writings and to let the words of the writer emerge in all their truth and beauty in theatre.
"The play provides interesting insides into the life of a bygone era and is a must not just for theatre lovers of Hyderabad but also for a cross section of society.
Recalling his association with the late writer, Shah remarks: "Ismat ranks among the all-time greats of Urdu fiction. And as her thoughts unfold on stage you begin to see why. Ismat Aapa is a funny old lady is what I thought when I was privileged to meet her in one of her many avatars, that of a film actress this time."
"In my ignorance, I took her for a cute cuddly grandma, nothing more. By the time I took the trouble to read her works, she was already a distant memory. In the course of her journey, she had been, at different times, novelist, playwright screenplay writer, short-story writer, filmmaker and educationist. Apart from being a liberated parent and a doting grandparent," Shah says.
Ismat created a provocative body of work, which astounded and shocked her contemporaries. Some of the earliest feminist writing in India, its contribution to the renaissance in writing and of tge Urdu language which was occurring in India during the ’40s and the ’50s is too well known to need reiteration.
"It was not easy, to stand out in the company of such a awesomely gifted band of courageous, committed and creative writers as her contemporaries were: but Ismat Aapa had no problem managing it with distinction in an age when to docilely accept being part of the furniture was the ‘destiny’ of all middle-class women," Shah points out in his director’s note.

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