A dash of Rang for the capital

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The Rang festival organised by the Film and Theatre Society is in full swing at various venues in the capital. The action began with plays by Ekjut of Mumbai. The plays were nostalgia personified.

The first play A Salute To Mumbai — Films of the Fifties was a take-off on a film of the fifties directed by Nadira Zaheer Babbar. The plot had all the ingredients of the films made in that era. The heir of a rich Thakur family arrives home from abroad to his village to the traditional welcome by the old mother. He behaves just like a spoilt-but-kind son of the family.
Then we go into the forest where the tribals are celebrating a festival. Here we learn of the sworn enmity between the tribals and the Thakur family because the Thakur’s brother took advantage of the tribal chief’s sister and he left her when she was pregnant. She later kills herself. The beautiful daughter of the tribal chief, who is supposed to marry the village apothecary, falls in love with the Thakur’s son. And is in turn loved by him.
There is a twist when the local Raja’s daughter falls in love the Thakur’s son as well.
There is the usual ballroom dance where the son imagines he is dancing with the tribal girl, played in the true spirit of the fifties by Juhi Babbar Soni.
The Raja’s daughter, who is the villain along with the village apothecary, becomes good with the girl giving up her life in the arms of her beloved Thakur. So the way is clear for the young Thakur and his beloved tribal girl who are married with the consent of the tribal chief. The play ends with a group song as concession to theatres.
The play was enacted so sincerely, that it was fun and enjoyment for the audience who were in splits over each sequence of the old fashioned cinema.
Nadira came into her own in Begum Jaan a play written and enacted by herself. The script is faintly reminiscent of Begum Akhtar, the legendary singer who entranced audiences during the 40s to the 60s until her death 50 years ago. Nadira uses Begum Akhtar’s voice as her own in the play.
The play is a vehicle for Nadira’s talent as an actor and as her love of the Urdu language.
In one hilarious scene after another, she pits her wits against her paying-guest played by the TV actor Anoop Soni. Anoop is living in the hope of laying his hands on the letters written by Abdul Qalaam Azad in her youth. Also living in the house, is the Begum’s granddaughter played by Juhi Babbar Soni, Anoop’s wife in real life. A romantic interest develops between the two.
The play evolves as a cat-and-mouse game between Anoop and Nadira. The victim is the woman who is ready to give the man up when he leaves after having showdown with the grand old lady over Azad’s letters.
Shortly after Anoop leaves, the old Begum Jaan also departs this world. Now the granddaughter is all alone. Anoop decides to return, ostensibly for her but still in pursuit of the letters. She gives the box containing the letters which turn out to be to nothing more than painstakingly copied excerpts from Azad’s writing which includes the piece that the Begum had read out to him as one of the samples.
A disappointed and disheartened Anoop offers to look after the girl for her entire life.
She realises the fact that he does not love her. She decides to go to Lucknow where she lands a job at the radio station and remains independent like her grandmother.
The play was entertaining and well acted by the cast of three.
Nadira was very good, even though her mannerisms became tedious after a while.
The direction, the sets and the lighting were all excellent.
Multi-disciplinary
The Rang festival is multi-disciplinary in its reach. Besides theatre (there are three plays by local teams on the 26th, 27th and the 28th of July at the Shri Ram Centre.
There is a literature festival as well as film, folk art and photography festivals. As part of the theatre festival, Rang has organised a play competition.
I saw the winning play Ajnabi presented by a three-month-old theatre group Samvaad adapted from Albert Camus’ The Stranger. The play is about a man who is under trial for shooting a person four times. As we enter the head of the protagonist, we encounter a man who is totally at sea about the crime. He is in a state of alienation from his act and the accusation makes no sense to him. They bring in the fact that he appeared indifferent at his mother’s funeral. A man from the old peoples’ home adds that he did not care for his mother when she was alive.
The philosophic idea of existentialism is expressed through the character. In another delightful sequence, we meet Mr Godbole, the man’s neighbour played very well by Sahil Sethi. The conversation between the two is epigrammatic and represents the essence of Camus’ nihilistic content. The performance of Jatin Sarna was superbly underplayed in keeping with the text he deservedly received the prize for acting. The prize for direction went to Vikas Bahiri who directed the Hindi translation, Ajnabi with understanding and flair.

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