Satyadev Dubey once declared that he didn’t trust people who couldn’t recite poetry. The theatre veteran would engage people at parties by breaking into verses in Hindi, Marathi or Gujarati. He believed poetry made one’s speech clearer and diction, impeccable. In similar vein, a young man, standing before a small audience in an old classroom at New Municipal School, Mahim, expresses his love for poetry. Sushil Inamdar, who essays Dubey in the play Inshaallah, receives a round of applause from the audience and would have perhaps even got a pat on the back from the late theatre director.
The play, Inshaallah by Awishkar Productions, based on Dubey’s life, is part of National Centre for the Performing Arts’ (NCPA) theatre festival, Centrestage. In its fifth edition, the 10-day festival, which opened on November 28, will stage 14 plays in Hindi, English, Marathi and Gujarati. Apart from Inshaallah, the solo act, Popcorn with Parsai is the other bioplay that will be staged at the festival. The comedy will bring Hindi literature’s modern satirist Harishankar Parsai’s humour alive on stage.
As different as the scripts are of the two bioplays, one being a true account and the other a fictional biography, the treatment offers an interesting contrast. Inshaallah is a personal account of Dubey’s troubled relationships with the characters he directed and wrote, especially the women in his plays. Popcorn…, however employs a different approach for its script. “Parsai never written an autobiography,” says director Manoj Shah, who has previously worked on biodramas based on Karl Marx and Chandrakant Bakshi. “I read his rich collection of stories and contacted playwright Nilay Upadhyay with the idea of sharing Parsai’s whims and philosophies in an urban setting.”
Dubey’s characteristics — his temper, eccentricities, impulsiveness — that made the mob of 20 that followed him around (including director of play Ajit Bhagat, who worked with Dubey for eight years) quiver with fear, are being adopted by Inamdar. Popcorn… leaves the writer’s personal life out of the play altogether and is completely stripped off Parsai’s personality traits. “The play is only about the ideas that this modern writer of the Hindi language stood for,” says Daya Shankar Pandey, who plays Parsai. Along with replicating some real-life incidents, the play offers Parsai’s hilarious comments on modern day situations, such as Modi’s idea of politics, Shah Rukh Khan’s idea of love, and consumerism, among others.
“We won’t be presumptuous and say this is how Parsai would react today. But these commentaries are something that will strike a chord with his readers, who will hopefully recognise glimpses of his inimitable style,” says Shah. Pandey adds, “This is what makes it more exciting, to imagine how Parsai would react to the real and imaginary people that walk into his life.” So, the mannerisms are dropped and mimicry forgotten. Through upfront conversations with the audience, Parsai’s simple truths are brought out as he tries to explain a bizarre idea: why he thinks popcorn has ruined India’s culture and times.
With Inshaallah, the play is the result of scraps of memories and moments, lines and scenes from Dubey’s life that the veteran himself wrote as an autobiographical theatre piece. Dubey’s protege Chetan Datar then translated the piece for Marathi audience, but passed away before the play made it to stage. “He was often criticised for not being able to make the distinction between an actor and the character. It was said that he never loved his actors, only the characters, which got him into trouble. This forms the crux of the play,” says Bhagat.
While both productions are made using different styles, one thing remains the same, and that is the reasons that the bioplays were conceived. “People should not forget their contribution. Hindi literature gained tremendous momentum because of Parsai’s works,” says Shah. Bhagat draws the same conclusion, “Dubey was a legend, but for his widely experimental ideas, not everyone understood him. Maybe this piece will give a second chance.”