Much has been said and written about famous Urdu and Persian poet Mirza Ghalib. His ghazals have been interpreted and found a prominent place in mainstream media and his life has been portrayed on the small screen and on stage. But very little is known about the people who played a prominent role in his life.
New Delhi-based theatre group Pierrot Troupe’s Ghalib Ke Khat aims to throw light on these individuals. The play is a dramatic presentation of personal letters Ghalib wrote to his friends, disciples, relatives and even government authorities.
Interestingly though the play is about the famous literary figure, he doesn’t appear in person on stage. The production that premiered in the capital three years ago is being staged today in Mumbai for the first time as part of a three-day festival titled Nayaab: Three Rare Plays With Tom Alter.
Director M Sayeed Alam, who has not only penned the play but also helmed it, says, “Ghalib’s wife Umrao Begum, his maid Wafadar and his favourite disciple Munshi Har Gopal Taftah (a famous Persian but long-forgotten poet) read out letters in the play. It informs viewers how he was perceived by his near and dear ones.”
Alam admits that putting together this production was cathartic for him. He explains, “We had earlier staged the play Ghalib that chronicled his life and Ghalib In New Delhi wherein he comes to the capital in present times.
But like everyone else, even I had depicted his wife in a negative light. That’s why I thought I should present Umrao Begum as a full-length character since very little is known about her. She was highly learned and had to put up with his eccentricities.”
Ghalib Ke Khat also highlights little known facts about the great poet. Alam adds, “Ghalib was a heavy drinker and despite earning Rs 162 per month, which was a huge sum in those days, he had taken loans. He was an atheist but his wife was deeply religious.”
One might think that the production demanded a lot of research but the director informs that as he had been reading about Ghalib since childhood, he knew interesting facts about his life.
Tom Alter, who earlier essayed the role of Ghalib in Pierrot’s production, will be seen as Taftah. Raving about the actor, Alam says, “Tom’s Urdu is impeccable and he looks exactly like Taftah. He has an uncanny ability to mould himself in the character. For instance, when I directed him in Ghalib and Lal Qile Ka Aakhri Mushaira, wherein he essayed the role of Bahadur Shah Zafar, he managed to look and sound exactly like the emperor.”