Presenting the eventful life of a freedom fighter like Bhagat Singh on stage in the span of an hour and a half is a daunting task. However, Ajoka Theatre’s new play Mera Rang Day Basanti Chola does it quite well.
Though there was room for improvement in certain aspects, the play that premiered on May 18 at the Alhamra introduced audiences to several hitherto lesser known facts related to Singh’s ideology and trial.
The play opens with a scene at Baba Shah Jamal’s shrine in Lahore, with devotees dancing ecstatically. Two policemen come to the darbar and talk about a murder case, piquing the interest of an old man named Baba Bhoga, who has served as a jail official at the Central Jail in Lahore before partition.
Bhoga then follows the cops who are investigating the recent murder of a person named Nawab Ahmad Khan Kasuri. Bhoga then recalls that the murder took place near Shadman Chowk, the place where Bhagat Singh was hung to death years ago. Fitting the pieces together, Bhoga realises that Kasuri was the one who had signed the death warrant of Bhagat Singh.
The story then proceeds through Bhoga’s flashbacks, giving insight about the time when Bhagat Singh and his fellows Raj Guru and Sukhdev were imprisoned in Lahore’s Central Jail for throwing a bomb during a Legislative Assembly session in Lahore.
The audience meets Bhagat Singh, the revolutionary, who spends his time in jail reading books on revolution and earns the love of all other prisoners for being a freedom fighter against the British Raj.
The trio are sentenced to death, and refuse to submit a mercy petition.
On March 23, 1931, Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukhdev heroically went to the gallows, singing songs of freedom. Bhagat Singh was 23 when he kissed the hangman’s rope. In his last letter, he quoted Terence MacSwiney, and said “My death will do more to smash the British Empire than my release”.
Director Madeeha Gauhar, speaking after the play, said that it was a historic fact that Nawab Kasuri sentenced Singh to death and years later was murdered at Shadman Chowk. She said that later Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged in the murder case of Nawab Kasuri. “The play is not just about Bhagat Singh. It has become very relevant today as ZA Bhutto case is again being heard by the Supreme Court,” she said.
“Bhagat Singh was one of the most influential and charismatic characters of our independence struggle, one of the most heroic sons of Punjab and Lahore. He was an admirer of Allama Iqbal and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and a lover of Urdu poetry. He lived and died in Lahore for the liberation of the motherland, but like most of our heroes, the Lahori’s have yet to honour and recognise him in a befitting manner,” she added.
The role of Bhagat Singh was played by Nirvan Nadeem whose acting skill was average. The role of Baba Bhoga was played by Sarfaraz Ansari, who did an exceptional job.
The play will be staged at the Alhamra till May 20.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2011.