The sounds of dholak, sarangi and harmonium make it easy to locate the room in Bhavan’s College where theatre group, Jhoom is rehearsing for their latest production, Ishq Aaha. Inside, several actors are pacing up and down with sheets of paper, a few are mouthing their dialogues or singing while others, rehearse their lines.
Actors rehearse as Soni and Mahiwal in the play, Ishq Aaha. Pic/Swarali Purohit
The play they are working on showcases four love stories: Heer Ranjha, Sassi Punnu, Soni Mahiwal and Mirza Sahiban. Director Gagan Dev Riar, who is screaming out instructions, takes a moment off to smile. Co-director Sukant Goel helps us find a quiet spot, so we don’t disturb the actors.
The cast of Ishq Aaha
“The idea emerged from our producer Suruchi Aulakh, who has been keen to feature music from Punjab in theatre, for a while now. I am from Punjab, so when he asked if I was interested I was excited. We travelled to Punjab and met scholars, elders and musicians,” Riar tells us, as the actors warm up for act one.
“Since these are folk tales, we found that the versions differed, so we decided to showcase this variety. We are not passing a judgment on love and whether people should die for it. We are presenting the various colours of love,” he adds excusing himself to begin rehearsals.
As we watch the story of Soni Mahiwal unfold, narrated in the traditional form of theatre, we are spellbound by the music and the performance until the dissatisfied director calls for a cut and asks the actors to re-do the scene.
“The two stories — Soni Mahiwal, Heer Ranjha — have been fused together. We are vocal that we are telling you four stories. So while the audience is immersed in the story, we come out of it and remind them that we are only a group of people narrating these stories to them,” shares Goel. “While the narrative for Soni Mahiwal is traditional, we are presenting contemporary versions of Heer Ranjha and Mirza Sahiba; with Sassi Punnu, we simply tell a story, and not enact it,” he adds.
Two sets of actors have been hired for this so that unavailability of actors cannot impact production. “The biggest challenge is five-six months of rehearsals, especially as there’s hardly any money, with sponsors that might ease out and make it easier to get bulk time from the actors,” Goel tells us. The music for the play is Qawwali, Punjabi folk-like, Tappe, Gidde and Thumri as well.
While the show opened to good reviews last month, most people found the three-hour duration long. “We have tried to edit it but we can’t drastically cut it as it won’t do justice to four stories. Satyadev Dubey would say if that if they are not talking about it, they are not affected. If they are telling you what changes they want it is because something else in the play has pleased them,” concludes Goel, before heading back to the rehearsal.
On: Today 7 pm
At: Experimental Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point.