Amrita Pritam: she did it her way

"Amrita, A Sublime Love Story" brings into focus the perpetual mystic love of Amrita Pritam for Sahir Ludhianvi, as well as her feelings for her husband Pritam, and her partner, Imroze.

It is always difficult to deal with the subject of a person who has passed away very recently. One is always worried that the perspective of time and distance may be lacking…so any work dealing with such a person is something very interesting and intriguing. It was with this spirit that I went to watch “Amrita, A Sublime Love Story”, produced by K K Kohli, staged by Impresario Asia, a troupe from New Delhi, at Rangashankara.

In this production,  M S Sathyu, the noted film-maker, handles a play about Amrita Pritam, the noted poet and literatteur. Written by Danish Iqbal, this play brings into focus the perpetual mystic love of Amrita Pritam for Sahir Ludhianvi, poet and Hindi film lyricist, as well as her feelings for her husband Pritam, and her later partner, Imroze. This play reciprocates his earlier play ‘Sahir’, written by Pramila le Hunt.

Amrita’s personal life was not a conformist, traditional one; In 1935, she married Pritam Singh, son of a leading hosiery merchant of Lahore’s Anarkali bazaar. In 1960, Amrita Pritam left her husband for poet Sahir Ludhianvi (Abdul Hayee). The story of this love is depicted in her autobiography, Rasidi Ticket. When another woman intruded into the love life of Sahir, Amrita found solace in the companionship of the renowned artist and writer Imroz. She spent the last forty years of her life with Imroz.

The play brings to life the characters of Amrita, Sahir, their friend Sajjad, and Imroz, with the character of  Pritam being referred to in absentia. Amrita’s children are protaganists, too, with only her daughter being shown on stage. In an echo of the television serial, "Mahabharat", Time, or Waqt, is a protagonist in the play, talking to Amrita about her life and times.

The cast. Pic: Deepa Mohan

The production being staged on a Friday probably had something to do with the fact that the hall was only about half full; but the members of the audience certainly got a fine production. Both Hindi and Punjabi were used in the play, with the Punjabi being mostly the quoted works of Amrita. The play skillfully brought out the intertwining of her life, love and talent. The dialogue was very natural, and well delivered by the cast.

The members of the cast (Lavlin as Amrita, Vijay Nagyal as Sahir, Mangat Ram as Waqt,  Kidar Nath as Imroze, Sanjeev Kumar as Sajjad, Salim Zaidi as Harkishan, Pratima Virmani as Doosri Amrita, and Jayati Virmani as Kandla) proved themselves to be seasoned actors, and save a couple of fumbles on the dialogue, acted out their parts with great credibility.

Scenes evoking well-documented incidents in the love of Amrita and Sahir, such as the one where, while attending a press conference, Amrita wrote his name hundreds of times on a sheet of paper….or the one where, after Sahir’s departure, Amrita would smoke the cigarette butts left by him….were beautifully enacted.

The friendship and the mutual raillery between Sahir, Sajjad and Harkishan also evoked a lot of smiles to the audience. Of course, when Sahir’s well-known lines were quoted, the audience was mesmerized by the beauty of the words. The singing (by Mannu Kohil, Manish, Neeru Dubey, Pratima Virmani, Mangat Ram, Mukesh, and Nishad) and the music by Ras Bihari Dutt added considerably to the effect.

The set, lights and costumes were also done by the director M S Sathyu. The lighting was executed flawlessly, and the costumes were fairly simple, requiring very little shifting of stage props. The costumes, by Buntie were not exactly period, but evoked, pretty well, the Punjab of Amrita’s days, and were authentic enough. A change of dupattas was effectively used to show the different stages of Amrita’s affection and love.

The only drawbacks I could see in the play were some time lags between scenes sometimes, and as I remarked earlier, just a couple of fumbles in the dialogue. However, these did not detract very much from the production. I also did feel that Lavlin, though she has a mobile, expressive face,  came across as a little too coy and arch for my taste, but that, of course, is my personal perception. Also, the play always seemed to depict her as considerate, generous and full of good qualities…surely, I felt, in a woman who lived such a non-conformist life, acknowledging a few warts would have added to the credibility.  However, since Lavlin knew Amrita personally and was called a “soul-mate” by her, no doubt her reading of Amrita is likely to be more authentic than my perception of her!

The play is narrated mostly in Amrita’s own words, and though not all of us could follow the Punjabi, the words of her poetry were still moving enough to make a success of the play. In all, it was a very good play indeed, and I do hope the second show on the 28th of August had a house full audience to enjoy this production from Delhi.

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