Playwright: Mahesh Dattani
Director: Lillete Dubey
Actors: Lillete Dubey (as old Nazia), Soni Razdan (as Zarine and Ruby), Neha Dubey (as Young Nazia, Shakuntala, and Nikhat), Sid Makkar (as King Dushyant, Suhel, and Vinay), and Priyanka Karunakaran (as a young starry-eyed performer)
Opening night of Mahesh Dattani’s “Where Did I Leave My Purdah?” at Mumbai’s grand Tata Theatre left me with fulfilment at having unravelled the complexities of Nazia Sahiba’s desires and dilemmas. Nazia (played by the versatile Lillete Dubey) is a yesteryear theatre actress of the pre-Partition era whose talents are now confined to the histrionics of playing grandmother roles in films. Her dialogue uttered in a state of epiphany, as an 82-year old actor, “This van is too small for me. Cinema is too small for me. Only the theatre deserves me”, sets the stage for Dattani’s play that explores in depth, the guilt-ridden past and the success-filled dance-drama career spanning nearly forty years, of a woman who considers theatre, her whole world.
The enactment of the play, within a play, Shakuntala where Suhel and Nazia play lovers off-stage and on-stage, depicts Nazia’s own troubled life. Where King Dushyant has selectively forgotten his lover Shakuntala and her love because of a curse there Nazia Sahiba chooses to forget her own traditions and family in Lahore when she is forced to move to India during Partition. She leaves behind her “Purdah” of Muslim traditions to set up her theatre company in India.
For those around her, Nazia is proclaimed to be a stubborn, selfish, and heartless woman but as the play’s narrative takes you back and forth between the 1950s and 1980s, the layers of this character are slowly taken off to reveal the true vulnerabilities and pain that lie hidden within Nazia’s obsession to play Shakuntala. Nazia comes across as a feisty and passionate woman who is trying desperately to forget her painful past and move on with the times. She dislikes her sister’s daughter, Ruby (played to perfection by Soni Razdan) and leaves no stone unturned to snap at her. For Nazia, her dream production, Shaku, which is a contemporary adaption of Shakuntala, will mark the beginning of post-modern Indian theatre.
Sid Makkar as Vinay, a frantic Assistant Director on a film, infuses the freshness of youth to his part. As the A.D. aspiring to be an actor someday, Vinay is a stressed and perturbed youth who looks up to Nazia Sahiba and wants to help her with her production, but at the same time wants her to “go to Vaishnodevi, pray for her sick grandson, and ring bells.”
Young Nazia played by the stunning Neha Dubey leaves you enthralled at her depiction of Shakuntala’s love and rejection by King Dushyant. The friction between Young Nazia and Suhel leaves you wondering about the events in Nazia’s life.
The play, infused with love, denial, grief, and passion, however, had a few goof-ups since it was a first performance by the actors. But those errors can be forgiven because of an intelligently crafted storyline and some stellar performances by Lillete Dubey and Soni Razdan. Priyanka Karunakaran deserves a mention for her role as the young starry-eyed stage actor who is set to give an audition for playing the part of Shakuntala in Nazia’s Shaku.
Dubey’s and Dattani’s play speaks of freedom and post-Independence trauma and hope. The background music provided to take the audience back into time, into Nazia’s life, is soothing and complements the story beautifully. Watching this play unfold just made me realize how much I really love theatre, even today.[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: Kritika is a freelance writer and journalist living in Mumbai. Mumbai is the city she grew up in and despite her globetrotting; she always loves coming back to this city. Writing is her food for soul and when she isn’t writing, she loves spending time, watching plays and movies.Â To read his other posts, click here.[/box]