Lust and longing

Updated: 21 December, 2019 10:48 IST | Prachi Sibal | Mumbai

Set in the era of nawabs, a story of teenage sexuality finds place on stage in a devised performance

A scene from the Phislan
A scene from the Phislan

Jameel is a young teenage boy who goes to a madrasa and is surrounded by other boys of his age. Most have hit puberty and are slowly exploring the hormonal and bodily changes that come with it. His world changes when a boy, Nazru arrives as domestic help. His friends are enchanted and there is a change in the dynamics of their equations. Jameel is jealous at first but equally intrigued by the new entrant.

This is a story set in the 1940s in an unnamed small town, in the era of Nawabs. First penned in Urdu as a short story by Muhammad Hassan Askari, Phislan, is one that remained lesser-known and un-translated. If it has a familiar ring and if Ismat Chughtai's Lihaaf comes to mind, you aren't far off the mark. Director Jitender Singh of Afsana Theatre had similar recollections when he heard it at Tamasha Theatre in an Urdu reading back in 2017.

Singh then transliterated the story in Hindi and went on to adapt it for a full-length (90 minutes) devised play with the same title. The play has only six male characters with no female casting. There are also no adult characters you see and only hear of in stray reference. "The setting is such. The boys go to a madrasa and the girls to a mosque," explains Singh. The overarching theme is of teenaged explorations of sexuality where homosexuality is alluded to, if not talked about in greater detail.

Jitender SinghJitender Singh

The story, Singh tells us, was ahead of its time and he needed to 'leave nothing out' keeping a more progressive time in mind. "It explores the underlying femininity in men, behind the cloak of masculinity," he says. The only changes made, were purely dramaturgical, of simpler Hindustani over Urdu. "We made the language colloquial to suit dialogue between the boys from the original intricate Urdu narrative. We did not want to change the setting or context. We didn't want to induce any laughter either," he says also telling us about the use of the sets that resemble a Muslim gharana of the time and thematic music.

At times, darkly comical and at others deeply endearing, Phislan, unravels one layer at a time to tell a tale that transcends its milieu. "It could easily be set in the small town UP today," Singh says, reinforcing its timelessness.

On December 23, 7 pm
At Prithvi House, 20, Janki Kutir, Juhu Church Road.
Log on to
Cost Rs 150

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First Published: 21 December, 2019 10:40 IST

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