Bhisham Sahani (1915-2003) was a big name in Indian literature. A Padmabhushan awardee, he strode the world of Hindi literature like a colossus. Seema Pahwa and her group ‘Kopal Theatre’ decided to stage some of the best Hindi stories of Sahani in the year 2015, which was his birth centenary year. Out of this came ‘Bhishmotsav’, a highly watchable, entertaining, and yet thoughtful theatre experience.
Bhisham Sahani earned an MA in English Literature from the famous Government College, Lahore. Those days, anyone worth his salt was an alumni of this college. In 1948 he became a member of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). Later, he joined the freedom struggle during the Quit India movement of 1942. He was the General Secretary of the All India Progressive Writers’ Association from 1975-85. In 1987, Govind Nihalani converted his novel Tamas into a TV serial, and this is how Bhisham Sahani became a household name.
Seema Pahwa’s Kopal Theatre has mounted this wonderful show by choosing five short stories from Sahani’s vast collection of stories. These five stories include Oob, Sir ka Sadka, Dholak, Yaadein, and Samadhi Ram Singh ki. Almost all of them were solo performances.
Let us begin with Oob which means boredom. This depicts the plight of a college teacher who has to take on the duty of invigilator during a college examination. Students are busy writing their answers while the teacher is moving up and down the class room getting more and more bored with each passing minute. He tries all tricks to kill time, but time seems to be moving at a snail’s pace. That’s when he notices the peon sitting on a stool outside the principal’s room. The peon had wanted this teacher to put in a word for his son so that his son gets his job, as he is on the verge of retirement. Suddenly the teacher realises that while he had got bored with the three hours of invigilation, here was a person who had done nothing but sit on that stool for practically 30 years of his life; and now he wanted his son to follow him! This ordinary story suddenly takes metaphysical tones.
Sir Ka Sadka shows the world of women. Here is a woman who has no children. Since her husband is rich, they badly need an heir to the property. He gets himself another wife with whom he has a child. The first wife celebrates this occasion on a mega-scale. Dholak is about the grand Indian wedding. This story is set a few decades ago when the young generation had contempt for traditions like applying mehendi, the bridegroom coming on horse-back, etc. Ramdev, the bridegroom, flatly refuses to mount a horse despite intense cajoling. When things seem stuck, a wise old man appears on the scene, who joins the celebration along with a couple of foreigners. They question the bridegroom about the rituals, and the groom realises the inherent poetry involved in these apparently silly rituals. And he finally agrees to climb the horse.
Yaadein is a story of two ageing woman who are left with nothing but memories of an era gone by. Since they meet after a very long time, they walk down the memory lane where the children have no role. And there is the last story of Samadhi Bhai Ramsingh. This again depicts a typical Indian rural reality where a man becomes a ‘Baba’ or saint simply because he predicts that he would die on a particular day. Though he does not die as he had predicted, he does die a little later. The repentant villagers decide to build his memorial, which in turn brings prosperity to this little known village.
This is a wonderful bouquet of stories of Bhisham Sahani mounted by ‘Kopal Theatre’ group. These stories are directed by Seema Pahwa, a senior theatre-hand. She got a bunch of talented actors who do justice to their respective roles. Rakesh Chaturvedi (teacher in Oob, Heeba Shah (Sir Ka Sadka), Seema Pahwa and Ratna Pathak-Shah (the two old women in Yaadein), Mayank Pahwa (Dholak), and Naseeruddin Shah (as Bhai Ramsingh) are excellently cast. It is sheer pleasure to watch Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak-Shah and Seema Pahwa on stage. Their excellent acting skills enhance the appeal of these stories. This is a new trend in Mumbai theatre circuit which in a way was started by Naseeruddin Shah’s theatre group Motley Productions. This group has staged Ismat Chugtai’s stories for many years now. Today we have numerous groups staging works of many stalwarts from Hindi and Urdu literature like Manto, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Munshi Premchand, etc. This is a different theatrical experience, and so worth watching.