India-Pak play about letter-writing to premiere at Urdu festival in UK

LONDON, Aug 28: The UK premiere of a play based on a series of letters describing the real-life experiences of an Indian husband and his Pakistani wife are among the highlights of a first-of-its-kind virtual Urdu festival being hosted in Britain.
‘Mian Biwi Aur Wagah’ will be showcased next week at Jashn-e-Rekhta (JeR) UK, the world’s largest Urdu language literary event held annually in Delhi since 2016 which has taken on a digital avatar for the UK in light of the coronavirus lockdown.
“It is indeed a great honour that an institution like Rekhta recognised our efforts for the love of Urdu,” said Amna Khaishgi, team leader of Goonj, the theatre group behind the play co-written by Dubai-based Ehtesham Shahid, who also portrays the main lead of Mian.
Reflecting on the irony of a play on letter-writing having to make use of a digital platform, Shahid said: “It’s a sign of things to come, but the human need to express oneself cannot be fulfilled through just one medium, and letters can still create magic if one is willing to pick up pen and paper. It’s a matter of time before we will re-discover the joy of something as intimate as writing letters.”
All the performers of the play, referred to as MBW for short, have written their own scripts and verses.
“Team MBW reflects the vision of Rekhta where language, art, and literature transcend borders. The simplicity of letters in the play form layers that resonate with the audience,” said Sanjiv Saraf, the Founder of the Rekhta Foundation.
Jashn-e-Rekhta UK, organised by the Rekhta Foundation UK over two days on September 5 and 6, is pitching itself as a unique “immersive experience” that will bring together exclusive sessions and digital archive of art forms, including poetry (mushaira), literature, storytelling (Dastangoi), ghazals, Sufi music, qawwali, dance and drama.
“Urdu’s uniqueness lies in the way it brings together Arabic, Farsi and other Indian dialects. As one of the most elegant languages, Urdu is able to express love in all its manifestations, divine and earthly, using the most beautiful symbolism. No matter who speaks it, magic is always felt. JeR UK gives us the opportunity to experience this magic through musical performances, discourses, dance and theatre,” added Saraf.
Among the other highlights include “Cinema – Kal Aur Aaj”, during which famed poets and lyricists Javed Akhtar and Manoj Muntashir will be in conversation about films, lyrics and Urdu poetry.
India-based filmmaker Tanuja Chandra, UK-based writer-filmmaker Nasreen Munni Kabir and Pakistani actor Sania Saeed will discuss the contribution of Urdu to the world of cinema and television in the “Cinema Aur TV Ki Zubaan” session and lyricist Gulzar will be talking about his love for Urdu in “Ye Kaisa Ishq Hai Urdu Zabaan Ka”.
Tanuja Chandra said: “While on the one hand, gatherings of large crowds, especially those belonging to our subcontinental diaspora are heady and fun, what’s been great about virtual events this year, is that people from all over the world have watched and participated in them.”
Rekhta Foundation UK, as a registered UK charity, has been set up to preserve and promote the languages, literature and culture of South Asia with a particular focus on Urdu.
“Rekhta.Org, the world’s largest repository of Urdu literature, is followed by nearly 226,000 people in the UK, including 211,000 in England and 84,000 followers in the city of London alone,” it says, in reference to the popularity of the language in Britain.
Alongside the specially curated sessions for the UK, the festival next week will also offer a chance for audiences to explore some of the most popular events from JeR India’s archives of past events. (PTI)