Lawyers in the ACT

Dismal describes the theatre scene in Lucknow—the audience doesn't like to pay to watch a play as a result of which the actors don't earn out of entertaining.

Written by Siddhartha Mathur | Published: February 23, 2012 2:55:16 am

Dismal describes the theatre scene in Lucknow—the audience doesn’t like to pay to watch a play as a result of which the actors don’t earn out of entertaining. It is largely the call of amateurs to keep the auditoriums abuzz with activity. A growing tribe is of advocates of the Lucknow High Court taking a break from the labyrinth of Acts to act on stage and their reasons are as same as different.

“I was in the High Court when I saw a notice on the board inviting participation in a play,” says advocate Vijai Krishna,whose sonorous voice kept earning him compliments but never a suitable opportunity. “I reported for the auditions and was selected for a side role. By sheer luck,the lead actor walked out…the side role was upgraded to the main role and I found myself in the shoes and uniform of Col Surat Singh,” says the lawyer who made his stage debut with the highly acclaimed Court Martial,written by Swadesh Deepak. Recently,he essayed the eponymous role in Ek Aur Drona-charya,Shankar Shesh’s highly acclaimed play,which is part of the syllabus of the National School of Drama.

The call on the court notice board had been put up by senior advocate I B Singh.“Amidst the rush and burden of work,I felt the need to connect younger members of the legal fraternity to the creative pursuit of theatre,” says the senior lawyer,who has done street plays,some with Safdar Hashmi,when he started practising law in 1975. His call drew an enthusiastic response and soon he was ready with a random troupe of young lawyers playing Armymen and women of various ranks under the direction of S A Mahdi,joint registrar of the Lucknow High Court.

“There was a time when members of the judiciary were associated with the fine arts and literature and that legacy must continue,” says Mahdi,whose bond with dramatics goes back to his days in the college and later when he was serving in the Allahabad High Court and had the likes of former judge Justice Palok Basu for colleagues. He continued to hold stage plays with the participation of lawyers when he came to Lucknow in the 1980s.

“I used to be a shy,hesitant person…and it was no help in my profession,but doing a few stage plays helped me break out of the shell and I communicate more effectively now,” says Vijayant Nigam,who spends the day in the court and evenings at his chamber. “Being in the circuit helped me get the job of managing all legal work of a film being shot in Lucknow. More over,the producer gave me a role in the film,” beams Nigam,who has been practising law since 2000.

“Besides boosting confidence,it is an enjoyable means to bond with other members of the fraternity and a great way to unwind,” says Zubair Hasan,advocate in the Lucknow High Court for the past nine years. “Doing some plays has made me more articulate and meticulous in presenting my case,as for a play you have to memorise lines and work on the intonations as well,” he says.

Shyamendra Kumar Shukla gives credit for initiating him into dramatics to fellow lawyer Sabita Lahiri,who in turn stumbled into it by sheer chance. “My brother is a theatre regular and when a female actor failed to turn up for rehearsals I pitched in,” says Lahiri. Her protege Shukla agrees with her when she says that the new pursuit has brought them closer to literature.

“Taking part in a play compels us to read the entire script as also related literature. It just makes us all the more sensitive and humane in our approach to the issues we face in the course of our work,” says Shukla.

“Production of a play worth its weight costs about Rs 50,000. We gather funds from established members of the court,” says I B Singh.

“It breaks my heart to see lawyers earning lakhs of rupees gorging shamelessly on streetfood out of roadside stalls around the court or resorting to means that taint the fraternity. With a pursuit so elite,the young lawyers can be expected to keep the proud and dependable banner of judiciary flying,” says Mahdi,who has even made some documentaries for Doordarshan.

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