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An insight into Tom Alter latest festival Jashn-E-Maazi

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Tom Alter invites theatre lovers to enjoy the best of our history, languages, poetry, dance and music with his latest festival Jashn-E-Maazi, reports Boski Gupta

Seventeen days, more than 30 plays and an eclectic mix of language, poetry and history… Welcome to the world of Tom Alter who is helming the Jashn-E-Maazi festival. Though initially known for his firangi roles in Hindi films (thanks to his fair looks and light eyes, Alter played the quintessential bad Englishman), Alter soon made people realise that he can speak Hindi and Urdu much better than many Indians. His four decades in cinema and theatre are testimony to his art and talent. No doubt, one of the plays, Mumbai Central, puts light on this city, the Hindi film industry, and the last 42 years through the eyes and experiences of Alter.

Dream come true
“For many years I wanted to do a festival wherein I can present a mix of stories and performances. We start this with Trisanga — a mix of poetry, prose, music and drama – and end it with Gandhi. You can say that we have shown ages from Mahabharata to Mahatma,” says Alter. The culmination which Alter talks about is a hypothesis wondering what would have happened if Gandhi was still alive. Yadi is an emotional, timeless look at the lives and beliefs of Gandhi and Godse. Written by Asghar Wajahat, it will also see Benjamin Gilani acting next to Alter.


Laced with past
“It is a ‘never before’ kind of festival. Succinctly speaking, the plays roughly cover the entire history of India — from Mahabharat to Mughals to the most historical in Modern Times. I call it a fine blend of History and Histrionics!” explains Sayeed Alam of Pierrot Troupe who has produced and directed many popular Urdu plays like Lal Qile ka Aakhri Mushaira, Ghalib Ke Khat, Babur Ki Aulad. Apart from history, Alter is the common thread of the festival. “Who could have imagined about 20 years ago that this gentleman-actor would end up playing as many historical characters on Indian stage as no else from his ilk will be able to – from Karna to Karamchand Gandhi, interspersed with those of Bahadur Shah Zafar, Ghalib, Gandhi, Tagore!,” adds Alam.

Language twist
However, when credited with one of the proponents of Urdu plays in India, Alam modestly says, “I am definitely not one of the proponents of Urdu plays. However, I do not shy away from writing a play in Urdu (and calling it so also) on a subject and/or situation which can be expressed best in Urdu.” On the other hand, Alter is pretty candid about it. “People are not hesitant to work in Urdu but the problem is simple. We like to work in the language we love and are comfortable. I know many people who are very good in Urdu but unfortunately they are not related to theatre. And people who are in theatre don’t know much Urdu these days. For that matter I would say that Sayeed Alam is one of the exceptions who both know the language and work for it,” he says.

Alam thinks that Urdu plays are tagged as Hindi or Hindustani to capture more footfalls. “The plays by Manto and Ismat have been billed as Hindi or Hindustani plays to attract more audience. This is a disservice to Hindi, Hindustani, Urdu and likesof Manto and Ismat who wrote principally in Urdu,” he explains.

Performance and fun
There are two new plays also. A Memoir of the Future which portrays the life and times of Wilfred Bion, world renown phycoanalyst, and Dozakhnama which is based on the acclaimed Bengali novel by Shibshankar Bal. This will be performed in Hindustani and Urdu where Manto and Ghalib talk to each other from their graves discussing the changing times and lives. While there are pure Hindi and Hindustani plays like Karn Kunti Samvaad and Abhisar, there’s also Ranjit Hoskote’s The Last Annals of Alamgir in English which shows Aurangzeb at the end of his tumultuous life. Then there is Teesveen Shatabdi in Hindi by Badal Sarcar which is a scathing look at the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki through a uniquely Indian vision. Alter’s association with Pierrot goes back a long way and hence it’s no surprise that the group’s many famous plays are being featured in the fest also. There are also dance performances by ace artistes like Zia Nath, Mallika Sarabhai and Sharmila Bhartari.