A familial terrain
In her new monologue about a woman navigating the politics of a joint family, Lubna Salim brings to life father and noted writer Javed Siddiqui's script on stage, under the direction of husband and theatre personality Salim Arif
Over cups of laal chai — Javed Siddiqui's delicious recipe for tea with hints of lemon, ginger, salt and sugar, but no milk — the discussion at the noted lyricist and scriptwriter's Andheri office is one that never loses steam in the world of theatre. At what point should a playwright let go of his script for the director to take over? And should a director hover in the wings to fix slip-ups in real time, or be in the audience and let the actor play his part? The director and actor, in this case, are Siddiqui's son-in-law Salim Arif, and daughter Lubna Salim. The play in question is the monologue, Gudamba, that brings the trio together in their respective roles, and premieres this Thursday.
Gudamba, Siddiqui explains, is a dish made of raw mango and jaggery. "It is sweet, sour and salty. It can be eaten and drunk. What could be a better metaphor for life than this?" he says, referring to the plot of the monologue that revolves around an ambitious young girl Amina, who chooses to navigate the domestic politics of the joint family she is married into with self-deprecating humour.
A scene from Gudamba. Pic/Sneha Kharabe
Set in Mumbai, the script was Siddiqui's gift to Salim on her birthday. The actor, who works in both theatre and television, had been going through what she calls a turmoil within. "The kind of roles I was getting didn't quite allow me to grow as an actor. In the television industry, there is a certain perception of you as an actor, and if that perception is deemed fit for a particular role, you get it. So, I started saying no to those mundane roles, and even enrolled for Vijaya Mehta's mid-career classes, which helped me come back with a new perspective," she shares.
The play, Arif tells us, itself is an everyday story spanning Amina's journey over the years. "There aren't many dramatic points, but certain moments of realisation which we tried to treat interestingly," he says. The 75-minute monologue had its set of demands for the playwright, director and actor; the obvious being for Salim. "I have no exit! And that can be quite testing for an actor. But it's what I signed up for because that was the idea behind wanting to challenge myself," she confides. While the monologue is an interactive one, with an aim to keep the audience engaged, Arif is quick to point out that it avoids the temptation of becoming a stand-up performance.
"The aim is to not present caricatures or have the actor do a 15-in-one role. The laughs are a by-product," he clarifies. "I had to stop being Javed Siddiqui the writer and become Amina. And thinking like her was difficult. But characters are not born out of thin air. You create them from your cumulative life experience. If, when watching a play, the audience can see someone they know in a character, they will be with you through the entire duration," says Siddiqui.
Coming back to the playwright-director-actor conundrum, Arif tells us that what brings the trio on the same page is their shared understanding that a play should both, reflect life and reflect on life. Salim quips, "That's where the common ground ends! We are the worst bunch of critics. But on a serious note, everyone knows their job. It's only the nuances we argue over."
About the sweet-sour slice of life that Gudamba is, however, there is no disagreement. "We are living in times unlike any other. While the old values continue to exist, the newer values are being ushered in, with the Internet, social media and WhatsApp having a big role to play in that," Siddiqui points out. "How do these old and new values interact? Do they clash or go together? If we let the latter happen, all the heartburn and bickering that you see will end. That's what the play is about."
On May 30, 9 pm
At Prithvi Theatre, Juhu.
Log on to bookmyshow.com
Entry Rs 500
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