‘Wo Afsaana’- an enthralling play on Sahir and Amrita 

‘Wo Afsaana…’. a tribute to two celebrated authors in the history of Indian literature Sahir Ludhianvi and Amrita Pritam is a gripping play performed by Team Raabta

A scene from the play (NH Photo)
A scene from the play (NH Photo)
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Rana Siddiqui Zaman

While Kabhi Kabhi Mere dil mein khayal aata hai plays in the background, with the poetic rendition of Sahir’s “duniyā ne tajrabāt-o-havādis kī shakl meiñ jo kuchh mujhe diyā hai, vo lauTā rahā huuñ maiñ, the act begins --- as an indication to Sahir’s traumatic life before he met Amrita.

In a nutshell, it glimpses through Sahir’s life. For instance, how seeing his mother as the 11th wife of his father, who ill-treated her and hence it led to their separation. Sahir chose to live with his mother. Between 12 and 23 years of age, he went through traumatic times and did some of his most poignant creations like Talkhiyan and Parchaiyan. How he met the Punjabi author, a married woman having a couple of children, and both felt bonding for each other, forms the essence of the play. A bonding that neither of the two would express with each other, given the social norms, nor they would miss any chance to say it through their poetic creations, transports the audience to the dignified times of black and white cinema, where expression of love would just be those unsaid words, to be read between the lines, the feelings restricted in words but expressed with eyes and often wit or humour.

Both characters, tell their part of life, separately, nestled in their own locations. Apart from occasional meetings of the two in small acts, the narration allows several moments of laughter with a subtle sense of humour that the two would often interact with. For instance, in a scene, Amrita says to Sahir, “I needed a photograph of yours so that I could see it before my child’s birth. I have heard that if you see beautiful things, the child turns out to be beautiful too. Sahir, less confident of his looks perhaps, says, “Very poor taste” to the giggle of the audiences.

Amrita, married too early, drowned herself into poetic writings after her mother died. Her father wanted her to write only religious poems but she was way ahead of her times. How she met Sahir and developed a habit of smoking by trying his left out cigarette butts out of fondness for him, how Sahir framed a ghazal on Tajmahal for Amrita and gifted to her, is followed by a beautiful song.

The entire life sketch is interspersed with Sahir’s perhaps the most beautiful and popular songs; that takes the story forward as much was said between the two through the songs than words. The expression of love and acceptance with film Phir Subah Hogi’s song, “Phir na keeje meri gustakh nigai ka gila”, and a persuasion from Hum Dono, “Abhi na jao chor kar”, or a longing with “Tum mujhe bhool bhi jao, to ye haq hai tumko”, Pyar par bas to nahi hai mera phir bhi lekin, left the audience swaying with them and helped a grip in the play. Dialogues like “Meri dehleez ne pehli baar uske qadam chuye”, “Maine laashain dekhin aur lashon jaise log” on Partition, “Honth jum jaane se farmaan nahi marr jate”, render the dram ,a required depth.

Shamir Abaddon who conceptualised the play stood convinced with his poetic sensibilities, a baritone, a perfect way of delivering Ashar and long dialogues, also incidentally, looks quite like Sahir himself with his resemblance to the famous poet. He had also played Imroz, Amrita’s partner in another play earlier. To make it more close to reality, he roamed around old Delhi to look for specific cut kurta-pyjama and jacket Sahir would wear, as also the thick glass glasses Amrita used to wear.

A scene from the play (NH Photo)
A scene from the play (NH Photo)

One must give it to Jaishree Sethi for playing Amrita, to a near- perfect role. She has two natural resemblance to the author and poet -- a long nose with deep eyes and an immensely soft, calm and euphonic voice honed with decades of modulation training. The natural looks perfected with flawless acting in which lots of monologues were spoken in Punjabi to make as closer to the authentic, does it magic. Her accent, tone and voice texture blurred the line between the author and the actor.

For Jaishree the role is just the opposite of her temperament. “I am agressieve and in a hurry while Amrita jee was calm and composed. So it was a challenge to look like her. I saw numerous videos of her to imbibe that tone and composure. It was tough,” says the actor who also runs Story Ghar, a professional storytelling unit of her own.

A complete content rich play with minimal set design and focus on the duo and the hummable songs of yore, laced with powerful shayari of Sahir and prose by the Sufi author, Wo Afsana, has been first such play on the duo that tells their story simply, in a matter of fact way, to the uninitiated.

I had seen Ek Mulakaat by director Syed Saif Haider Hasan on the duo in which a conversation between Sahir played by Shekhar Suman and Amrita Pritam played by Deepti Naval was designed in a different way. It imagined a situation in which Sahir comes back to life after death and both of them interact and discuss their feelings with each other and why they couldn’t be together in a beautiful way. That play, however, is for those know the life story of the two.

Wo Afsana is for those who know nothing about the two.

The story, therefore, was kept as close to the original as possible. It takes inspiration from the documented facts penned in books authored by Amrita Pritam and book titled ‘ Main Sahir Hoon’ by Chandar Verma and Dr. Salman Abid. with contents from Saat Baras, Aakhiri Khat, Mera Khali Jaam and Parbaton ke Dayre that Amrita wrote for Sahir, it intelligently weaves incidents.

“We researched for one-and-a-half years, Scenes we improvised and dramatized memories,” says Jaishree.

“The problem we faced was that Amrita was very vocal about her feelings for Sahir but not vice versa. So, we don’t have much written by Sahir on Amrita. It is only indicated in his nazms and songs. In Amrita’s writings we find that he wrote only for Sahir like Meri khali jaam, tumhe udaas sa paata hoon, tumhare parbaton ke dayre, so we kept them as it is,” Shamir shares with this critic.

The director kept songs which are popular without making it a Bollywoodised musical. “We tried to divide the nazms according to the rhythm and suitability of the situation.”

With minimal set design, and maximum content, Woh Lamha succeeds in engaging the audience as the incidents picked up carefully for narration has a fine thread of connectivity, the progression of unsaid, melancholic but romantic bonding, yearning, unrequited love and a life long quench for a partner in life, is flowy. The story becomes all the more enticing with songs inserted timely and at apt spaces that not only provide relief to otherwise a seething pain that the audience feels while it also helps in accepting the fate of the duo in love.

With young singers Anurag and Tulija, an effort to sing good old song showed. They could have a better female singer though. A crisp adaptation by Sudesh Sethi and Jaishree Sethi seemed worth the effort.

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