A play with just two characters who sit and read out letters to each other through the entire duration…….Does that sound boring? It sure does to a lot of people. But this play would make you change your mind. Woven dexterously around the lives of the central characters and their journey through thirty five years, the story explores myriad human emotions as well as a sea change in the Indian socio-political milieu.

I am one of the few hundred fortunate people in Mumbai who were at the first ever open air performance of this fantastic play at the Bandra Fort on 27th February 2012. The Bombay Times sponsored event was to celebrate 20 years of this classic production. The atmosphere was fantastic and the fort seemed the most ideal setting for this wonderful performance whose form and content is as beautiful as it is innovative. 

Inspired by A R Guerney’s ‘Love Letters’; written by Javed Siddiqui (dialogue and/or screenplay writer for fantastic and diverse films like Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Umrao Jaan, Zubeidaa, Darr, Taal and many more); directed by Feroz Abbas Khan (who has also directed Mahatma vs Gandhi, Dinner With Friends and many more); starring Shabana Azmi and Farooque Shaikh (who need no introduction!), this is a poignant love story told through letters spanning a period of 35 years. This lyrical journey in time and space chronicles the lives of two people, from very different backgrounds, who can neither live with nor without each other. Mischief, friendship, love, ego, loneliness……all come alive through the letters read out by the characters on stage. Feroz Khan insisted that the two actors do NOT learn their lines so that the authenticity of actually reading the letters would translate to the audience. This is just one of the many specialities of this play. 

When they began 20 years ago, nobody (least of all the director and actors!) expected this to be a pathbreaking effort. Their first dress rehearsal was apparently the worst dress rehearsal ever! After watching it, Javed Akhtar had said, “You can’t give a worst performance. But let me tell you the play will be a success.” Needless to say the cast and director did not quite believe him at that point!

The performances are superlative to say the least. Farooque Shaikh’s character is gentle, lovable but ambitious. But the stage belongs to Amrita. Shabana Azmi has never moved me as much as she did in this play. And the tears in her eyes as the play drew to an end were as genuine as the ones in the eyes of most of the audience who walked hand in hand with her through 35 long years. I can vouch that every woman will find something to identify with in Amrita through her confidence, success, arrogance, insecurities and pathos.

I am sure a lot of people have already watched this play before me. But if you have not, it is essential you keep your eyes and ears open for an announcement of the next performance in your city.


Copyright © Tara Verma March 2012

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