One man delivering a one-act dramatised reading of a novella with four central characters – how good can it get? Well, turns out when the man is Pankaj Kapur, it can be absolutely mesmerising.
Dopehri is a dramatised reading of Pankaj Kapur's novella, narrated, written and directed by the man himself. The Dopehri stage is set to denote three key areas – a study with a table and chair, a rocking chair and a balcony area. Pankaj Kapur enters and brings with him some sort of electric energy that is contagious. You find yourself involved, rife with anticipation, even before the reading begins. The lights go off and the story of Amma Bi, a 65-year-old lady in Lucknow lives in a huge, empty haveli, a reflection of her loneliness, comes to life.
Amma Bi's son, along with his family, stays in the US and visits her once a year, when he has the time. Jumman is her good-natured, simple-minded servant. While she has a lot of love for Jumman, she does not favor his ways and chides him time to time. When her loneliness starts obstructing her day-to-day life, her old friend, Dr. Saxena suggests that she gets a paying guest. Amma Bi agrees reluctantly and screens a lot of women but is not pleased with any application. Finally, Sabiha turns up and Amma Bi's life changes.
The story is simple and that's probably why it strikes a chord instantly. The characters are all so well-etched and defined that even without a visual reference, the whole story plays out in front of you. In a classic “show, don't tell” style, you realize that Amma Bi is a smart, funny woman who has never really given much thought about who she really is. She is a generous, loving matriarch who longs to love but has no one to spend her time with. She mothers Jumman and spoils him with mithai and clothes but doesn't let him forget that he is the servant. The banter between Amma Bi and Jumman gives way to many chuckles.
Amma Bi's journey from being a mother, a nawabi lady with a reputation to maintain in the society and a grandmother to discovering herself as an individual – Mumtaz Siddiqui – is heartening. You are bound to be in awe of Pankaj Kapur's writing half-way through Dopehri, if not immediately. The story packs a lot of humorous situations and dialogues that blend in with the narrative with ease. Nothing seems stretched and at no point are you wondering what's going on. If anything, you'll probably find yourself to be a part of the story. If you are not very good with Hindi, it probably won't matter, as the language is as simple to follow as it is sweet-sounding.
Honestly, the play is beyond words and reviews and so is Pankaj Kapur. The story ends as simply as it had begun but by the end of it, something changes inside you. When you leave the theatre after a long standing ovation, Amma Bi and Pankaj Kapur stay with you for a long, long time.