Picture courtesy: Wikipedia 

When two geniuses fall in love, their story is as unique and unconventional as they are. The play “Ek Mulaqaat”, based on the unrequited love story of the poetess/writer Amrita Pritam and the poet/lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi strives to show just that, with a dramatic twist.

The Uber-talented Deepti Naval portrays Amrita Pritam and throughout the play I could not help but think how she was absolutely “in the skin of the character”, so to say. I have not seen the Prithvi Theatres’ play “Tumhari Amrita”, in which Shabana Azmi essayed the role of a poetess modelled on Amrita Pritam and won great praise for it (nothing to wonder about there, she being one of the most gifted and sensitive actresses of our times); but here, watching Deepti Naval on stage, one could totally identify with her as Amrita!

Shekhar Suman, who could never make a mark for himself as a film actor, is considered to be a fine stage actor, and one can see why in this play. With just two characters in this one-act, 90-minutes’ performance, standing up to Deepti Naval itself would take enormous talent. He does that, as well as recites couplets in chaste Urdu with such ease and admirable diction, that it suddenly dawns upon us that he is an actor of considerable substance. These two fine performers bring the characters that they are playing beautifully to life.

The play, as the title suggests, is about a meeting between Amrita Pritam and Sahir Ludhiyanvi on a cold winter evening on the terrace of her Delhi home. It is an emotional evening when they relive their writing, their relationship, their unrequited love, and why they could not take it to its logical fruition and get married. They dwell on whether, even if they had come together, would they have been able to live together? Because she, a romantic at heart and he, a cynic and a loner, were just so different from each other! She found love and a sense of solid ground beneath her feet with her partner (the artist and painter Imroz), with whom she spent the last forty years of her life – a love story of another kind! He gave her all that Sahir could not or would not – loyalty, love AND commitment, even when her own heart still pined away for Sahir. What an unconventional, almost fictional love triangle, but real nevertheless! They recite their poetry, he in Urdu, and she in Punjabi and Hindi, they recall how they spent hours thinking about each other and wrote with the other one as muse and inspiration, but never acknowledged or formally dedicated anything to each other (in fact, all of Amrita Pritam’s works for which she won various awards and accolades, including the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Puraskaar, the Dnyanpeeth, the Padma Shri and later the Padma Vibhushan, were said to have central characters modelled after Sahir). They talk of the deep pain of their unrequited love, she more than he, because it was he who would refuse to commit.

The heart-to-heart conversation is interspersed with a trunk call from Mumbai which does not get connected till the end; when it finally does, it brings the Mulaqat and the play to an end with the shocking message that it has to convey.

The play generously uses Amrita’s poetry in Punjabi and Hindi and Sahir’s poetry as well as the songs that he wrote as an established lyricist for Hindi films. The songs are set to music, mostly in Ghazal form, and chosen in a way which sheds light on the relationship. The two talk about various things that affected them and brought them close, right from when they met, to the Partition, to the one strong influence in his life (his mother) and the mood is at times playful, at times sad, reminiscent and sombre. The songs too reflect the journey and the moods.

The set direction is brilliant in its simplicity! A terrace with a couple of chairs and a table, a starry night projected onto the screen behind and a few lampposts (which are significant to their story; Sahir apparently spent many hours by a lamppost in front of Amrita’s house in Lahore, waiting for a glimpse of her in her balcony)! The screen occasionally comes alive with pictures of the two, smoking, writing, thinking. And effective lighting and fog to show the wintry evening turning to night, hazy to depict sadness, bright at times to depict happier reminiscences. And lightning to announce the arrival of Sahir, since they haven’t met in quite some time, but also significant for the twist which is revealed only at the end!

All in all, what a beautiful play it was! I am not at all well versed with Urdu ( and hence kept nudging the husband to explain words every now and then, because he is a great lover of Urdu shayari and understood most of the poetry), yet the poignancy of the words was not lost at all and the experience was just too sublime! The standing ovation that both these fine actors and the equally talented director/writer Saif Hyder Hasan received went on for minutes together and wouldn’t stop! This was the fifth show in Pune, and yet the auditorium was almost packed to capacity – goes to show that quality performances always get a good welcome.
I would definitely recommend a watch!

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