A tragic tale of love and betrayal, Umrao Jaan Ada is regarded by many as the first ever Urdu novel. The celebrated novel, written by Mirza Hadi Ruswa, is set in the early 19th century Lucknow when the courtesan culture was at its peak. A theatrical rendition of Ruswa’s magnum opus titled ‘Umrao Jaan Ada - The Musical’ is currently being staged at Jawaharlal Nehru Weightlifting Indoor Stadium, New Delhi.
The musical play is directed by Rajeev Goswami with script and dialogues by Varun Gautam. It features singer-actor Pratibha Singh Baghel in the eponymous role of Umrao Jaan which was essayed by the legendary actress Rekha in Muzaffar Ali’s 1981 classic Umrao Jaan. The music composed by the music director duo Salim – Sulaiman is a fine blend of ghazals, thumris and qawalis.
Salim – Sulaiman, who are also the presenters of the musical, are deeply influenced by the Broadway and West End-style plays and there has been a strong desire in their hearts to do something on similar lines in India. Umrao Jaan Ada is an outcome of that deep desire and their love for classical Indian music. For the musical the duo has relied heavily on Khayyam’s original music from the Muzaffar Ali film.
Other than re-recording Khyyam’s music to meet the requirements of live theatre, Salim - Sulaiman also added some Kathak beats to enhance the musical atmosphere while ensuring that the authenticity of the original music is kept intact. Also four of the seven songs in the musical are taken from the 1981 classic. The new ones are penned by noted lyricist Irfan Siddiqui.
Rajeev Goswami and team right from the word go were quite clear in their heads that they don’t want to remake Umrao Jaan for the stage. On the contrary, they wanted to re-adapt the Mirza Hadi Ruswa novel. While the decision is bound to disappoint the diehard enthusiasts of the original film, this actually allows the musical to be seen a completely different light. In other words, it gives it a greater opportunity to be seen as an independent work of art.
Also, let’s not forget that cinema and theatre are two very different mediums. And so it’s best to see this rendition as a completely different entity. Moreover, the manner in which the play begins and ends is very different from the film. While a few chapters from the movie are missing in the play, there are others that are newly included from the novel. Also, the character arcs of certain characters are quite different in the play. Moreover, some new characters are added while others are entirely omitted.
The rather abrupt climax notwithstanding, Umrao Jaan Ada succeeds in presenting the early 19th century Lucknow in all its resplendent glory. The soulful music, lavish set pieces and glittering costumes transport us to a dreamy world inhabited by bewitching courtesans and opulent nawabs. The live singing by Pratibha Singh Baghel is certainly the USP of the musical. A 2009 SaReGaMaPa finalist, Pratibha is trained in Indian classical music which makes her an ideal choice for the central part in the musical. She previously essayed the character of Bahar in Feroz Abbas Khan’s musical play ‘Mughal-E-Azam’.
Pratibha has sung songs for films like Manikarnika, Bazaar, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya, Issaq, and Shorgul, among others. Also her acting doesn’t let her down. Singing, performing and dancing flawlessly, she is simply outstanding as Umrao Jaan. And so is Kanika Maheshwari as Khanum Jaan. Other than these two superlative performances, the acting as a whole can be described as average at best. Umrao Jaan Ada – The Musical may not be able woo you if Rekha is still your Umrao Jaan. Otherwise, it will most definitely sweep you off your feet.