Danish Husain’s English drama is a visceral portrait of friendship and shattered dreams. It’s a verbal duel between two artist friends, whose lives have been beaten by failed relationships and thwarted ambitions.

Director: Danish Husain
Writer: Ira Lewis
Cast: Danish Husain, Naved Aslam/Vrajesh Hirjee

When Harry met Yakub

Harry and Yakub are old friends who have a lot in common. They’re both artists. Harry is a published writer, Yakub a photographer. They’ve both seen better days. Harry is now broke and works as a doorman at a chic restaurant while Yakub has moved onto portrait photography and barely makes ends meet. They’re both bitter, angry men smarting over their failed careers and broken relationships. Their meeting erupts in a savage fountain of words.

They’re old friends who fight like foes

The showdown is set in motion when Harry heads to Yakub’s apartment one night to collect a long-standing debt only to be nonchalantly informed by the latter that he cannot repay it. While Harry is pissed off, bewildered and shocked, he finally comes to the real reason for his visit – he has Yakub read the draft of his third book?

Before he was a photographer, Yakub used to write. He had read and appraised Harry’s previous two books which were minor successes. Harry hopes that this one will bring him in fame and much-needed money. Yakub tries to evade the discussion before finally admitting that he did read the novel and that he hated it. The reason is that Harry has based the central characters in the book on himself and Yakub and drawn on events in their lives.

The veiled digs the two men have been taking at each other throughout the course of the night now become openly acrimonious. They each shine a mirror to the other’s worst face, and when Harry leaves, it seems as though the fissures they’ve verbally gouged in their relationship will never be repaired.

The play is a sharp reflection of the struggles of the artist

This is a story of the artist’s struggle. The effort it takes to produce meaningful work, the labour of getting it recognised, the work it takes to stay relevant and in the public sphere, the disappointment of failure and missed opportunities. Harry and Yakub are full of self-loathing for being in the position in which they find themselves. The feeling is reflected in how they view each other, triggering exchanges that are truthful to the point of being cruel.

Harry is the more optimistic of the two. He’s willing to claw his way up from rock bottom, even if it means, being a sell-out by writing a sensational book. He’s still hankering after his ex, believing his life was better when he was in a relationship. Yakub, who considers himself a great thinker and philosopher, has given up on humanity. He clings to his remaining shreds of self-respect, preferring to live a loveless, penniless existence because his pride won’t allow him otherwise. He used to have a thriving career as a fashion photographer and a wife who loved him but an unfortunate confluence of events led to him leaving both.

Danish Husain plays Harry and Naved Aslam and Vrajesh Hirjee alternately play Yakub. The show we watched had Aslam. Both actors are superlative, doing justice to the finely written script. The acrimony between the two is palpable. But so is the fondness they have for each other and the recognition that they’re both sour, weary men with no one to blame.