Recipient of this year’s Sangeet Natak Akademi’s Award for theatre, director Mushtaq Kak’s humanistic vision came to fore in Ishq Malangi.

Mushtaq Kak’s work as a stage director is marked by precision in design and his plays unfold in a realistic style, avoiding superfluous elements to concentrate on the sense of the scene. In this process, he creates a production which is unpretentious and neat. Recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for 2015 for his contribution to Indian theatre as a director, the play Ishq Malangi, featured at the Festival Of The Arts at Abhimanch auditorium recently, bears the stamp of his distinct oeuvre as a director.

Born in Jammu in 1961, Mushtaq is a well-known name not only in his state but also, in Delhi’s theatre world whose works were appreciated by the discerning audience. Beginning as a backstage artist, he got adept at light and stage design and by dint of persistent efforts and passion for the theatre he eventually shifted to stage direction.

His vast experience in the complex art creation of a technician helped him to grapple with the intricacy of direction. As the director of Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts, Kak has directed for the Centre more than 30 plays. His production of Premanand Gajvi’s Mahabrahman, considered one of his best productions that he did for the Centre, dissected the deep antagonism in the ranks of brahmans on the basis of rituals they performed. Mahabrahmans who conduct rituals for the salvation of the dead are considered at the bottom of Brahmanical hierarchy and are despised by other ranks of the caste.

Nand Kishore Pant, a talented stage actor, who later shifted to Bollywood, created a most pathetic image of Mahabrahman confronting the curse of poverty and social disgrace. Another memorable production he did for SRC was Krishan Chander’s Ek Gadhe Ki Atmakatha featuring Shrikant in the lead role. It was a memorable performance by the seasoned actor of the Delhi stage.

Arguably, Mushtaq is the only director in India who has dramatized major fictional works of Saadat Hasan Manto, bringing to the fore the multiple facets of the starkly realistic fiction, bold with a pungent satirical edge, his troubled times and life.

Dramatized by Shahid Anwar, Gairzaruri Log (Persona non grata) with a long illuminating introduction by Habib Tanvir, was directed by Mushtaq bringing to the fore the philosophical kernel of Manto’s humanistic vision, his affection and empathy for the discarded people by so-called civilized society and their inherent humanism. The production of the play was featured at various national theatre festivals and so far it has more than 30 shows in different parts of the country. This writer saw it in Udaipur. Mushtaq’s fascination for Manto is not only that he is the greatest fiction writer in Urdu but also that he was born in Kashmir.

The production under review is the dramatization of a short story by Khalid Husain. Pritam Katoch’s stage version unfolds in a straightforward manner, establishing a direct rapport with the audience. It is a play about self-abnegation of lovers for the quest of a fulfilment of true love that transcends physical love between man and woman. Is such love possible to attain in the world afflicted with malice and vulgar materialism? The production seeks to answer this most intriguing question. Mushtaq conveys this noble feeling using the device of Sufi music that touches the innermost recess of the soul. In a way, music is the soul of this production. Though the play deals with two different short stories, both deal with the theme of true love which enables the narrative to shed light on multiple shades of love in different spaces and times.

It is set in the early ‘40s in Jammu city in a bazaar which is known for courtesans engaged in entertaining their clients with dances and rendition of songs. After having a good time, clients forget all about the courtesans. But with Kale Khan, a horse cart owner, it’s a different matter. He loves beautiful, young and vivacious courtesan Feroza but his love doesn’t get any response. Despite deeply humiliated and despised by Feroza, Kala Khan’s love for her becomes all the more intense; he stops his routine work, forgets everything that he once considered his duty. He becomes a recluse. Meanwhile, the country is partitioned. Feroza went to Pakistan. Her lover follows her but meeting his beloved has become a mirage for him and yet he keeps on searching for her, tattered and starved.

In another story, courtesan Shaadan Billi falls in love with divine music of Yousuf. Living in a world of ecstasy, she forgets all about entertaining her clients. Her life’s sole objective is to go deeper into the spiritual world created by Yousuf and his music. An enraged client kills Yousuf. Alienating herself from the mundane world, she devotes her entire life to the music of Yousuf and his memory. In moments of spiritual elevation, she conjures up before her the divine face of Yousuf.

Mushtaq has used minimal properties with levels backstage and the narrator occupies his space downstage left near a tree without leaves, symbolising the futility of quest for attaining the true love radiated with divine aura. The director and his cast evoke a kind of ambiance that imparts the production a reflective mood. Vinay Daggar as Kale Khan, Noureena Butt, Suman Pandita as Shadaan, Raj Kumar Behrupia as Yousuf and Madan Rangeela as Thanedar create images tinged with irony and melancholy.

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This post was written by Diwan Singh Bajeli.

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