Play looks at India's partition through the eyes of an Alzheimer's patient

Jun 27, 2017, 09:12 IST | Krutika Behrawala

A play that returns to Mumbai after two years sheds light on the 1947 tragedy through the eyes of an Alzheimer's patient

Saleem Shah as 90-year-old Ghanzafar Hussain in Pakistan Aur Alzheimer's
Saleem Shah as 90-year-old Ghanzafar Hussain in Pakistan Aur Alzheimer's

Ghazanfar Hussain, a 90-year-old gentleman paces on the stage using a walking stick. An Alzheimer's patient, he shares his hazy memories of the Partition. He recollects how he stayed in India but his relatives migrated to Pakistan in 1947 in search of greener pastures because that's what the 'town' was set up for. In a dialogue speckled with Urdu, he wonders aloud why his brother-in-law isn't returning to India since he is retired, evoking laughter from the audience. These, among other factually incorrect anecdotes, form Pakistan Aur Alzheimer's, a two-hour satire that will be staged this Saturday.

Presented by Pierrot's Troupe, and written and directed by Dr M Sayeed Alam, the play returns to Mumbai after a hiatus of two years. "The Partition led to separation of many families. However, the character doesn't remember that Pakistan is a sovereign state, because of his illness. The incorrect information makes it humorous," says Alam, known for stage productions like Ghalib In New Delhi and KL Saigal.

Dr M Sayeed Alam
Dr M Sayeed Alam

What makes the play unique is its satirical take on a historic event that is often relegated to the genre of tragedy in its portrayal, be it films, television or theatre. "The Partition was indeed tragic. The reason I wanted to add humour to the play was to put it in perspective. The information that the character provides is actually thought provoking. Also, society often laughs at a person with a disability. So, I wanted to test the audience's sensitivity. By the end, it bites their conscience."

Saleem Shah, who has starred in films including Sarfarosh and Fanaa, and in Just Mohabbat on TV, plays Ghanzafar Hussain. "It has been seven years since the play opened. Initially, to play a character double my age was challenging. It would take an hour to put on the make-up. I would observe the demeanour of older people to incorporate it in my body language. Now it comes easily," informs Shah, who has known Alam since college. "He would play hockey, and I would do theatre. When he came to me with the script, I agreed instantly. It's informative, funny and empathetic. I have taken the liberty to improvise as an actor because I need to hold the audience's attention."

Shah also suggested a change in the play's title. "The initial title was 1947, which I felt was misleading as it may refer to plundering and riots. This title fits better because the play has a plethora of emotions but it doesn't get morose at any point," he sums up.

ON July 1, 7.30 pm
AT: G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture, Laxmi Mills, Shakti Mills Lane, Mahalaxmi.
ENTRY: Rs 500

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