Ajay Mishra seeks the Holy Grail — as the civil services is thought of in his home state, Bihar. Mishra is poor, intelligent and determined, like an archetypal hero, whose quest to the top is marked by hardship, failures and a silent love. He is the protagonist of Baat Niklegi Toh, a play presented by Mahesh Bhatt, and starring Delhi-based Imran Zahid in the lead, alongside Bhumika Singh. Baat Niklegi Toh will be staged at Shri Ram Centre on June 9 and 10.
“The play is also about an era, the ’90s. Around Ajay Mishra, India’s socio-political structure was exploding in the form of communal riots after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Harshad Mehta’s scams and corruption at high places. Mishra fails to crack the exams three times. He has one attempt left but is not sure of himself. At this critical juncture, he has to choose between his dreams to serve the country and the easy ways to get rich,” says director Viren Basoya, a veteran of socially relevant plays such as Vijay Tendulkar’s Panchhi Aise Aate Hai and Mohan Rakesh’s Bahut Bada Sawal.
Baat Niklego Toh begins with a television anchor interviewing Mishra on topping the UPSC in his final attempt. His experiences of coming to Delhi for coaching classes, living in a rented and shared flat with other boys, studying rigorously and meeting a girl he cannot confess his love to will be familiar to many aspirants. The scenes unfold as flashbacks in the 90-minute play.
“There is a moment when his father is dying and Ajay is contacted in Delhi. He tells his family, ‘Don’t inform me if something happens. Hum ka karenge aakar? If I become something, I can take care of my family’. He has this I-must-do-it hunger that is present in youth from small towns,” says Zahid.
The actor adds that the play is inspired by — though not based on — Govind Jaiswal, the son of a rickshaw-puller who became an IAS officer in 2006. “I read up on him and spoke to him to prepare for my role,” says Zahid. He has acted in Bhatt’s play, The Last Salute, based on a book by Muntadhar al-Zaidi, who threw a shoe at George Bush. Zahid also played the title role in Daddy, a stage adaptation of Bhatt’s film of the same name.
As Mishra, Zahid slips into an accented Hindi. “I am from Bokaro, so the language comes easily to me,” he says. Like the protagonist, Zahid had come to Delhi in the 1990s carrying a small steel trunk that he still owns. “North Campus, at that time, was full of boys studying for their civil services exams,” he says. This year, Bihar’s IAS harvest included the son of a small shopkeeper. The play seeks to reveal the grit that brings home the Grail.