March 17, 2021 6:20:27 pm
In the 1990s, theatre critic and poet Nemichand Jain published a play by Ashok Lal, called Ek Mamooli Aadmi, in his magazine Natrang. “After that, the play became very well-known. It was nice of him to have made me a known and an accepted writer,” says Lal. Two decades before, Lal had created a play, Dekha Undekha, which Jain had reviewed in glowing terms for a newspaper.
This year marks Jain’s centenary celebrations, for which the organisation that he had founded, Natarang Pratishthan has instituted the Nemichandra Jain Playwriting Award. Lal is one of the recipients of the award; the others are SM Azhar Alam and Vibha Rani. Their plays were selected from among 66 scripts from across India. “It is an absolute honour. Jain had played a big role in developing awareness about what the stage can do,” says Lal.
His play, Shatru: The Enemy Within, revolves around India’s first emperor Ajatshatru, whose actual name was Kunika. Unlike Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother, and was punished severely, Ajatshatru appears to have transcended the atrocity of parricide to become one of the best-known emperors of the country. “The transformation is a very fascinating story. Most of us would like to embrace something positive and become better people but we don’t. It means that, unless we challenge the enemy within and conquer it, we will remain what we are,” says Lal. Saksham Theatre Group, Delhi, read the play on March 17.
The other winner, who was stepped back in time and place to make sense of modern India, is SM Azhar Alam. As the country’s social fabric began to sag under hate crimes, he wrote Roohein about the men who occupied the Mughal throne after the death of Aurangzeb and the arrival of Bahadur Shah Zafar. “This 100-year span was full of decadence, bloodshed and treason. Political might become a reason to unleash any measure of cruelty,” says the playwright. As he walked the corridors of power in this period of history, Alam encountered the son of Aurangzeb whose beloved said that she had never seen anybody die in the water of a river. “The emperor ordered 100-150 people to be loaded on a boat that was sunk in the Yamuna to fulfil the wishes of the woman he loved,” says Alam. He found out about Dara Shikoh and of the shenanigans of Mohammed Shah Rangeela. “When I read history, I found strange events that seem similar to what was happening around me in terms of viral videos of lynchings,” he says. The play was read by Treasure Art Association, Delhi, on March 16, the first day of the ceremony.
Performer Vibha Rani has been selected for her play, Pregnant Father, which explores gender politics in an entertaining way. In the play, a young man gets to know that he is pregnant — an incident that sends shockwaves not only through his family but also the world. His mother, however, who used to wonder what would happen if a man were to carry a child, is pleased by the developments. The play was read by Renaisstance Theatre Society, Delhi, on March 17. Nemichandra Jain Playwriting Award Festival is being held at Triveni Kala Sangam Auditorium, Mandi House, Delhi, on Wednesday evening.