Most theatre enthusiasts are well acquainted with the line, “From Amrita, with love” from AG Gurney’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play entitled Love Letters.
The Indian adaptation of the play first premiered in 1992 and was performed for over 20 years. It was conceived by Javed Siddiqui, who titled the rendition Tumhari Amrita.
It starred acting veteran Shabana Azmi and the late Farooq Sheikh, who performed the play in Lahore in 2006 and received immense applause.
The play is considered by many as one of the most notable screenplays to have come out of India, not just in terms of popularity but also critical acclaim.
Purists may argue that nothing beats the performance by Azmi and Sheikh. But due to the play’s heartfelt simplicity and honesty, it seems reasonable for the well-regarded actor Om Puri to mark his return to stage after near twenty five years with Feroze Khan’s Punjabi adaptation of the play, Teri Amrita.
Puri and actor Divya Dutta’s performances are inarguably refreshing and worthwhile. The days of extravagant theatre have been pushed to the side in the former subcontinent; the play is based on dialogic storytelling process, in which the narration of the letters is used to act out the screenplay.
The process is similar to that of Salima Raza’s play Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan, which comprises the letters of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Alys Faiz.
There is a desk set up on the stage and a glass of water that helps both actors through the 90-minute narration. As engaging as the play is, the laminated scripts used by the actors take away a little from the visual impact of the narration.
The letters the two actors read are between two childhood friends: the simple and traditional Nawab Zulfiqar Haider and the nonconformist, independent artist Amrita Nigam.
Their conversations span over their 40-year-old relationship, which starts from before partition. The story involves the quest for love which stems from understanding. Its premise is that one loses sight of what matters the most amid the hustle and bustle of life and more importantly, the importance of honesty and purity.
The play grows on one as it travels through the trivial conversations between the boy and girl and ventures into their various stages of life. It tactfully reaches its climax, where the actors’ genuineness to their respective roles becomes growingly evident.
The layered romantic story also has a political aspect to it since the play is set in partition era. Nawab Haider goes on to become a well-known politician after his father is requested by Jawaharlal Nehru to become a Muslim representative for his party.
Divya Dutta delivers an outstanding performance in the play. She seems to captivate the true riddles of a long life that involves a deep search for something or someone worthwhile. The way in which she is able to engage the audience as the play reaches its climax is spellbinding.
On the flip side, the show’s first day showed a negative of Lahore’s theatre decorum. Aside from the fact that Alhamra Hall 1 was half empty, people were taking pictures and answering their phone calls throughout the performance.
Despite the glitches, Om Puri in his regal manner said that the performance provided strength to the duo and that he had been dreaming of visiting Lahore for many years. He further said that had partition not occurred, it could have been likely for Bollywood to be based in Lahore since it has such a strong cultural heritage.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2014.
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