Tales of a Begum

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Muneera Batool

It’s a play that the theatre lovers in the country would be most familiar with. Begum Jaan, originally scripted by seasoned Hindi film writer and playwright Javed Siddiqui, has been performed variously on stage in Lahore and Karachi, most notably by a NAPA theatre group that famously starred Nimra Bucha in the eponymous role of a septuagenarian with a glorious past as a classical singer. Every time it garnered great reviews. Mercifully, a recent performance by a group of students from LUMS was no less likeable.

Directed by the young Shariq Thara, a student of Economics and Politics, the play was brilliantly put together by LUMS’s Gurmani Centre for Languages and Literature and headed by Yasmeen Hameed.

If one were to describe the performance in a word, it would be “refreshing”!

Set in a Jaipur suburb, sometime in the 1980s, the play tells the story of Begum Jaan and how Sanjay, a clever journalist from Lucknow, breaks into her haveli in the guise of a tenant. His mission is to grab hold of Begum’s secret letters she received from Abul Kalam Azad, and thereby create a scoop.

Begum, on the other hand, can’t stop narrating stories of her connections with the pre-partition India’s political and literary elite such as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the Nawab of Bhopal and Jawaharlal Nehru. She even talks about K. Asif (of the epic Bollywood movie Mughal-e-Azam) and Ghalib. And, in all her stories, she projects herself as the epitome of beauty with a million suitors.

She is also smart enough to see through the journalist’s real motive. She has a plan up her sleeve. He could get the letters if he marries her granddaughter.

Enter Zareena, a self-confessed nurse and companion to Begum Jaan, even though she says she is sick of her “naani”.

At another level, Zareena is also emotionally dependent on Begum, as she has no one else to share her joys and sorrows with. Sadly, this aspect of the play was not brought vividly to light.

In the thick of things, Begum Jaan passes away. Sanjay is upset. His hopes to make it big in the field of journalism, with the scoop of the century, are dashed to pieces. This is when Zareena comes to his rescue. She has a clue to the tiny box full of letters.

Eventually, she reads them out to Sanjay. Turns out that there is no love or anything in them; only fragments of what might be manuscripts by Maulana.

Why did Begum Jaan ‘fake’ them? Perhaps, to use them as bait for Sanjay hoping he will end up marrying her granddaughter. These questions are left unanswered.

The play’s open-ended plot makes for a realistic watch.

Begum Jaan was a visual treat through and through. Competent acting by a bunch of amateur performers, the delightful set of a haveli, and spot-on lighting were some of the play’s other highlights. Director Shariq Thara shone bright as the protagonist Sanjay.

After the curtain call, Thara revealed that he had previously studied Theatre Arts at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), under the tutelage of Zia Mohyeddin, for over two years. His performance was surely a testimony to that.

Lyla Qureshi as Begum Jaan also gave a well-nuanced performance, whereas Mashal Walji’s Zareena was pitch-perfect.

Begum Jaan was performed for three consecutive nights at Alhamra Arts Council.

Citation
Muneera Batool, “Tales of a Begum,” in The News, May 11, 2015. Accessed on May 11, 2015, at: http://tns.thenews.com.pk/tales-of-a-begum/#.VVCeMORVJ_U

Disclaimer
The item above written by Muneera Batool and published in The News on May 11, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on May 11, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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