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The tricks of the trade

July 13, 2012


Jay (Paras Masroor) and Sarita (Aiman Tariq) argue and Kaka (Owais Mangalwalla, extreme right) listen to them.–Photo by White Star

KARACHI: It was more than a professional challenge for students and faculty of the National Academy of Performing Arts’ Repertory Theatre to pull off a Vijay Tendulkar play, and as socially challenging a project as Kamala at that. But, let’s establish at the outset, they did a creditable job at the Arts Council theatre on Thursday.

Vijay Tendulkar is arguably the most talked about and well known Indian playwright of the latter half of the 20th century. His socially challenging and politically charged Marathi plays (translated into English and many other languages) often touched a raw nerve of Indian society, and therein lay his extraordinary talent. Kamala, first time performed in the 1980s, was based on the real-life events involving a self-seeking, self-serving journalist’s attempt at exposing the trade of prostitution. When Tendulkar first put it on stage, it landed him in trouble.

He didn’t care much for it and came out of trouble unscathed. The play was a huge success.

Translated into Urdu by noted writer Asif Farrukhi and directed by Meesam Naqvi, Kamala starts off with a scene in which journalist Jay Singh’s wife Sarita (Aiman Tariq) and her maternal uncle Kaka Sahib (Owais Mangalwalla) are talking about Jay (Paras Masroor) and his approach to his profession. The journalist is out of Delhi on an assignment that no one seems to know about. It is revealed that Jay always tries to get his byline printed, which indicates his self-centeredness.

Kamla Bai (Arfeen Seher, extreme left), Kamala (Mazina Malik) in scene from the play.–Photo by White Star

After a while Jay comes in with an emaciated-looking, poor woman Kamala (Mazina Malik). He initially tries to conceal her identity from Kaka and asks his maid Kamala Bai (Afreen Seher) to take Kamala inside the house. As the story progresses Jay tells Sarita that he has bought Kamala for Rs250 from a flesh trade market near Bihar to expose the sordid business. Sniffing Jay is up to something, his friend Jain (Saqib Sameer) knocks on the door. He comes in and tries to make Jay talk about his latest catch. Jay evades the situation.

Jay seems to be obsessed with having a press conference where he could make the media know about Kamala. He convinces the naïve Kamala to accompany him to the presser, telling her that it’s a social occasion. Kamala, who thinks of Jay as her master, agrees. The press conference turns out to be a success and Jain and Jay come back, along with Kamala, celebrating the achievement. Being tipsy, they make fun of some journalists for asking stupid questions. Kaka chimes in and says that it was Kamala that everybody made fun of.

All of this brings about a change in the otherwise submissive Sarita. In a subsequent scene, Kamala and Sarita chitchat during which Kamala asks Sarita at what rate Jay bought her. She suggests they can share their master. This jolts Sarita and she develops a soft corner for Kamala.

Jay now wants to put Kamala in an ashram because by buying her he has also committed a crime. His decision causes confrontation between him and Sarita as she tries to stop Kamala from being taken away. Jay doesn’t listen to her and takes Kamala away.

The friction between the couple married for 10 years increases as Sarita becomes steelier in her resolve. One day she refuses to accompany Jay to a party. He leaves for the party alone and in his absence Jain comes in and breaks the news that the owner of the newspaper Jay works for has fired him. Jay becomes agitated and collapses.

The play Kamala worked on many levels. It’s a sharp commentary on the plight of a certain segment of women in society. It also discusses the transformation in the character of the journalist’s wife from being a dutiful housewife to one who could stand against male chauvinism. The most resounding message that comes from the play is about unscrupulous journalistic practices, where journalists, in order to prove their worth, stretch to limits that they shouldn’t, compromising on certain sensitivities of life that need to be looked at with caution.

All the actors did a nice job. Paras Masroor as the over-confident, ambitious journalist was convincing as were Aiman Tariq as the journalist’s better half and Owais Mangalwalla in the role of the owner of a smalltime newspaper and Sarita’s uncle. Saqib Samir and Afreen Seher showed fine comic timing and elicited laughs from the audience. Mazina Malik as the poor Kamala completely looked the part. Her coy mannerisms and accent were near perfect.

Asif Farrukhi’s script was crisp. Meesam Naqvi should also be commended for keeping the pitch of the play in mind, which meant he knew when to heighten the conflict and when to keep it basic. The overall impact of the play was such that occasional fumbling of lines by Paras Masroor and Aiman Tariq can be pardoned.

Kamala will run till July 15.