Mumbai Mirror, Saturday, June 30, 2007
Dinesh Thakur’s production of Asghar Wajahat’s Jis Lahore Nahin Dekhya is well intentioned. The question is what can intent alone beget?
Post partition an old hindu lady is found in a haveli in Lahore freshly allotted to immigrants. She refuses to leave her beloved city and eventually endears herself to the local population despite the best efforts of wicked fundamentalists. Good triumphs over evil and humanity over communalism. The plot is simple enough with an appetizing morality. The problem is that the kind of audience that comes to see plays like these has heard this petition of we are the same people, children of one god umpteenth times. They have also heard that it is bad to kill people and only greedy leaders breed hatred. But gushy as this escapism might be it offers no true insight or analysis of the phenomenon of communalism that has plagued the social history of this country. True enough, politicians, be they British or ‘Bhartiya’, have often played the card of divide and rule but for once it might be nice to consider what makes us bite the bait each time. Even the projection of slides from recent riots does little beyond “reminding” us that such atrocities continue. Most art which dutifully denounces communalism is too polite and too afraid to pull up religion or the “common man”. Hence he must be the hero and his religion must invariably be pronounced as an innocent flawless victim of propaganda. He must go away thinking hatred is bad but he must not be told that he might himself be harboring it in some form as do wicked politicians; nor that his scriptures might be guilty of inherently planting some of these prejudices in his mind.
However among the masses that do not have ready exposure to such art, this simplicity might offer a fresh perspective on prejudices velvet wrapped in emotions that might just touch a chord. Besides, even the tokenism of this play in keeping the voice of dissent alive goes some way in preserving the essence of democracy.
But it is not just the content which is archaic. The form, acting, sets and aesthetics of this play are a chip of the old block of Hindi theatre. While Thakur’s critics may understandably pronounce him fossilized, it is hard to deny that while you sit in the auditorium and take in this play you are transported to a by gone era which has its own nostalgic charm. This is how story telling used to be when your grandmother practiced it at bed time. These are the kind of plays your parents saw on their first dates and this is the kind of good hearted simplicity we identify with past times. The costumes and sets evoke memories of Muslim social cinema of yore, with tacky production values unspoilt by CGI and SFX. And what embellishes the experience is Nida Fazli’s timeless poetry set to mesmerizing tunes by Kuldip Singh.