Monday, March 21, 2016

Iqbal -- a play on the life of the diffident man behind the lofty poet

The play was interspersed with his poetry, including from Shikwa and Jawab-E-Shikwa, but what holds the play is not the poetry but the almost mundane things that marked his real life. Told from the viewpoint of his cook, Imam Baksh, played wonderfully by Harish Chhabra, with earthy Punjabi humour, who cooked nothing but aloo gosht for the poet and claims that he has spent more time with the great man than even his three wives. M. Sayeed, who has also directed the play, just slips with ease into the image of Iqbal. The story is told that Iqbal had a good voice and he used to even sing and had the audience spellbound. But Sayeed does not try that. He shows the poet with a sort of thick voice which is not too sonorous, reading out his poetry of deep and complex thought in a not-too-simple language.
But it is the little things that shape his rather unhappy life that is highlighted, in spite of which he manages to write his good poetry. There are too many awkward moments, from his limited success in college to his marriages. What stands out is the other women -- Atia Faizi and Emma -- who seem to have touched his poetic life. But coming as he does from his orthodox humble origins, he never lets himself go. The same awkwardness reappears in his politics and in his dealings with the British. He is shown telling his Punjabi friend from the Congress that he delivered his presidential address of the All India Muslim League in a room in a haveli in Allahabad in English! Then there is the issue of accepting the knighthood. It was at a time when the freedom movement and anti-British sentiment was at its peak, and he faces criticism. He hesitates and agrees to accept on condition that his teacher Mir Hasan is given the title of Shams-ul-Ulema. In the end he loses his voice, and recites one of his lyrical poems in a squeaky voice, and the cook-and-the-one-man-chorus tells us that the poet mixed curds with the sevaee and that was the reason for losing the voice.It is thee unheroic life of a heroic poet, and that is why the play impresses.
I thought there were would be just a handful. But the turnout was quite impressive, including the great Tom Alter in the audience.

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