Life,played outhttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/life-played-out/

Life,played out

Ahead of the premiere of her new play Umrao,Purva Naresh talks about her signature theatre work that’s a result of her unique upbringing.

Those in the theatre community are likely to have come across a commercial for a popular tea brand featuring Purva Naresh that did the rounds on social media websites some time ago. It shows Purva starting her day with writing and moving on to practising pakhawaj,directing actors for a stage production and teaching children. In the 45-second ad,which celebrates the Indian woman,the tagline describes her as writer,director,musician,teacher and tea drinker.

Her daily routine is the same as the ad,but now she is also busy helming Umrao,a play written and produced by her. The play — whose rehearsals make the evenings at Prithvi House,Juhu,resonate with sher-o-shayari and ghazals — is slated to open on November 7 as part of Prithvi Theatre Festival,which is making a comeback after two years. “Nearly a year ago,Hidayat Sami,who is directing it,had proposed we do this play. As the theme of the festival is Classics,we decided to put up this adaption of Mirza Ruswa’s book Umrao Jaan Ada,” says Purva. The play features Neetu Chandra as Umrao. It has Rekha Bharadwaj composing four songs while the credit for its lyrics goes to Nida Fazli,Niranjan Iyengar and Nawab Wajid Ali Shah (Akhtar Piya).

With this decision to stage Umrao came an implicit task: to break the set notions and glamour associated with a courtesan. The story of Umrao Jaan has been part of popular consciousness thanks to the titular movie directed by Muzaffar Ali featuring Rekha. “Umrao was a modern woman — intelligent,ambitious and adventurous. Her candour and the zeal to survive were remarkable. I have chosen to focus on these facets of her personality,” says Purva.

The temptation to show “the spirit of women” is what Purva has often given in to. Cases in point: Afsaneh—Bai Se Bioscope Tak,Aaj Rang Hai and Ok Tata Bye Bye. For this she borrows heavily from the old-world culture and milieu of Lucknow where she grew up,as well as her familiarity with classical music and dance. “As a child,my days would start and end with music. In the morning,my mother (Vijay Naresh) would do her riyaaz. After school,I would attend Kathak dance classes followed by that of pakhawaj. The nights would end with a story and a piece played on the harmonica by my father (poet Naresh Saxena),” says Purva,whose grandmother was a baithak singer. After graduating in economics,she studied film production at Film and Television Institute of India,Pune. However,all through these one thing remained constant: Purva stayed in touch with stage by working with Roshan Abbas,Sangeet Natak Akademi and Shubha Mudgal,among others.

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When she moved to Mumbai in early 2000,she assisted Subhash Ghai on Kisna and and was later a part of the Krrish team. But working with Akvarious Productions and the late Satyadev Dubey’s prodding ignited the desire in her to do regular theatre along with her regular job at Reliance. After doing Afsaneh…,a dance drama,adapting Ruskin Bond’s stories for A Special Bond 1 and A Special Bond 2 and All About Women with Akvarious,she formed a group called Aarambh Productions in 2009.

Aarambh made its debut with Aaj Rang Hai,a heart-touching drama woven around Lucknow’s culture with communal riots in the backdrop. Being a dancer and musician,Purva’s inclination to use these forms of art in her narrative is evident in most of her plays. Aaj Rang Hai offers a flavour of Amir Khusrow’s poetry and Lucknow’s qawwali; Preth dramatises a folk tale with political underlines using folk songs and dance; and Ok Tata Bye Bye talks about caste-based prostitution in Rajasthan. “There is a certain amount of truth in all I do since there is some personal connect with the stories. The characters are two steps removed from reality. Yet,they are people I know or know of,” she says.

alaka.sahni@expressindia.com

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