50 shows Saying it with

50 shows Saying it with

Main Rahi Masoom” a poignant 75 minute monologue is a one of its kind biographical sketch of famous Hindi and Urdu writer Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza...

“Main Rahi Masoom” a poignant 75 minute monologue is a one of its kind biographical sketch of famous Hindi and Urdu writer Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza providing rare vignettes into the life of a person whose illumining intellect, staunch nationalism and condemnation of fundamentalist forces among both Hindus and Muslims make him one of the most endeared poets of the nation.

Raza condemned communal and vote bank politics which remain the scourge of the country to this day with sterling statements like “Sampradaaikta ka Koee dharm nahin hota” (Communalist forces know no religion) from the play revealing his thoughts on the subject. An open letter to “Allah Miyan and Shree Ramchandra’ humourously talking about the futility of fighting in the name of religion, Raza’s uncompromising stance and many rare facets of his personality are brilliantly portrayed to bring out the “ outstanding humanist” within the poet in this engrossing biographical sketch.

Ending with Rahi’s rare nazm “Vaseeyat” in which he wills to be laid to rest in the lap of the sacred Ganges, that he considered his second mother, the play, a moving tribute to the poet is poised for its 50th performance In Hyderabad. Directed by Bhaskar Shewalkar in which prominent theatre personality and Founder-Director of Sutradhar Vinay Varma enacts the role of Dr. Raza, the play has received rave reviews in different cities across India and abroad.

Vinay Varma the multifaceted personality who has enriched theatre as actor, director, script writer and voice –over artiste shares his experience in unfolding the “different shades’ and nuances of the “awe inspiring” poet.

How relevant is “Main Rahi Masoom” to the present scenario in our country where divisive forces and vote bank politics reign supreme?
The performance seems to be getting more and more relevant as time passes by. You look back and see what’s happening today has been happening in this country for decades….only the form has changed, the content remains the same.

There’s a line in the play Ye baat sahi nahin hai ki desh ka vibhajan 15 August 1947 ko ho gaya tha ! sahi baat to ye hai 15 August 1947 ko desh ke vibhajan ka kaam shuru hua thaa…aur vibhajan ka kaam abhi khatm nahin hua hai, jaari hai…”. Loosely translated, it means “it’s not true that the country got divided on 15 August 1947. The fact is that the division of the country merely started on 15 August 1947, and hasn’t stopped ever since…it’s on…”. This he wrote sometime in the 80’s. That says it all.

What changes have you perceived in the reaction of audiences to this play as you stage it for the 50th time? Please tell us about any particular incident that stands out

There have been quite a few who have seen it more than once, and find something new each time. An actor’s job is to just go there and perform and not think about how the audience would react to a particular thing. Responses may be entirely unexpected and that’s what an actor has to be prepared for.
I can recall scores of incidents though. At Prithvi, after the show Javed Akhtar said “It was uncanny”. There were Satish Shah, Mukesh Khanna and Javed Khan who I was told had a continuous stream of tears flowing as they felt they were seeing the man they had worked with so closely” come alive”. Rahi Saab’s daughter- in -law Parvati Khan and actor Paintal kept crying throughout the performance at the FTII, Pune. In another show Rahi Saab’s younger son Irfan said his heart skipped a beat as I turned around to face the audience for the first time… So close was the resemblance to his Father, he felt.

But the most interesting of them was an elderly lady sitting in the audience in Mumbai and rattling off Rahi’s lines even before I could finish them! After the show she revealed to the director that she was his ex-girlfriend and that they wanted to get married, but her father put his foot down saying she would be widowed soon as Rahi had tuberculosis of the bones. She also asked the director where she could find “a younger, hu-ba-hu Rahi”!

Interestingly, after the show in London, Rahi Saab’s friend from the audience said I looked, walked, spoke, chewed pan and smoked exactly like Rahi. The fact was that we did not get the license for smoking in the auditorium so I just held the cigarette between my fingers and gave the feeling of smoking! Since the audience were engrossed with the character it escaped their notice that I did not actually smoke.

How difficult is it to hold the attention of a 75 minute monologue without other actors on stage?
Extremely difficult Indeed! The challenge is that it’s not a “drama”, doesn’t have any dose of “entertainment” or “dialogue baazi” (Interaction through comments or retorts) with the other actors. But at the cost of sounding boastful, let me tell you that in no single show anywhere, where the audience was bored. In fact I was surprised with the presence of youngsters (some as young as 10-12 years old) sitting completely hooked to the performance. After a performance in Kolkata, one person came up and said “You did not reach out to us, but brought us – the audience – on stage and even if you had taken a break to visit the washroom during the performance, nobody would’ve missed a thing!” I think that was a huge compliment.

This magic happens when you come to grips with the text and the sub-text; and internalise the character. The fear, the uncertainty, that you’re after all human and prone to commit mistakes keeps propelling me not to relax. Slowly you also start playing with the audience’s psyche. For example when I am smoking during the performance, there are many who cover their noses and wait for the cigarette to be over. So in the latter part of the performance when I need to smoke again and pick up a cigarette, I hear a lot of sighs. Then I don’t light it instantly, and do it at another appropriate point in the script.

How do you sustain your enthusiasm for portraying the same character over and over again? Is there improvisation? Do you glean new insights?
Ah. Well! That’s a very difficult question to answer. Wish I knew the answer. It’s about loving your job. I don’t do it mechanically. I go over the script many days before the performance and figure out new nuances, work on the pauses and try to make it look more realistic. I deliberately make a mistake and cover it up as I am playing a “real-life” character. I try not be too perfect. There are no new additions. In fact if I did justice to even one word from the script, then my life as an actor is fulfilled.

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