Dear Reader, today’s post is by a guest contributor / old friend (those are not interchangeable things, we just have an in-joke about Prateek Kuhad song titles.) He’s been watching a lot of plays of late, and may even become kind of a regular guest contributor on the blog.
Tamaasha Theatre has been organising dramatised readings of works in Urdu for a while. This reading covered works by Aslam Parvez, Pitrus Bokhari, Mujtaba Hussain, Shamoel Ahmad, Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi and Ismat Chugtai. This review offers my perspective as a (terrible) Hindi speaker, who failed twice in Hindi exams in school. People examining the programme outside Prithvi Theatre saw this listing and said “Yeh hamse na ho payega” and moved on. Would the works go over my head, leaving me to practise smiling and nodding?
I am glad I stuck around. After all we have come to expect perfection and quality from director Sunil Shanbag (Stories in a Song).
The setting is informal, in a building opposite the main Prithvi theatre. The audience is mostly seated on the floor, with a few raised seats. The set up is simple, but intimate.
The performance is bookended by ghazals, accompanied by guitar. They set the tone at the beginning, and wrap things up nicely at the end. The guitar is a great choice for accompaniment, and the guitarist plays cleanly, with nice fills and outros. Although, from a musician’s point of view, one can hear the vocalist straining at the higher ends of her vocal range.
The works I could understand best were (due to my own limitations) were Pitras Bokhari’s “Marhoom ki yaad mein” and Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi’s “Khansama”. These were funny. By funny, I mean laugh out loud and slap your thighs funny. They were out and out hilarious. Being unfamiliar with Urdu writers, the closest comparison I can think of is Jerome K. Jerome. They use the helplessness of the main characters to amplify the absurd nature of the circumstances.
Among these, “Marhoom ki yaad mein” relies more on physical humour, describing the writer’s struggles with an ancient bicycle. The use of onomatopoeia is a nice touch in the dramatised reading, conveying effectively the feel of riding a straining, clunky machine. (Youtube link, NOT of this performance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9s4AK1UA0Rc)
In “Khansama”, the writer deals with the dying practise of appointing a Khansama (a person appointed as a cook and steward). He goes into details about how keeping and maintaining one is often a source of anxiety for the household, as they struggle to keep up with the Khansama’s absurd demands. While the reading was caveated by a statement that this story is difficult to understand, I found it quite easy to follow, and enjoyed the humour a lot.
Unfortunately, at least two of the works were a complete miss for me. I struggled to understand anything other than a few phrases. The audience around me seemed to be very appreciative, though.
My verdict….who’s afraid of Urdunia Wolfe? Keep an eye out for these dramatised readings by Tamaasha Theatre regardless of your proficiency in the language and go enjoy a very different kind of evening.
(P.S. – Post title is from Dagh Dehlvi’s couplet. The title of the event is from the first line and the title of this post is from the second line.)