A tribute to Rita Jitendra

Pran Kishore Kaul

I had just set down yesterday to start the next chapter of my new novel on which I am working here in Pune, when my daughter Neerja from Gurugram rang up to give me the shattering news that my friend Rita Jitender was no more. I was stunned. My hand froze on the key board. No! It can’t be. A copy of my latest book Radio Kashmir & My Days in Broadcasting duly packed with her Jammu address written on it was lying on the table waiting for the courier man to come to pick it up for despatch to her. The book that covered the period she had spent in Srinagar when she was teaching in The Govt. College for Women and the days when she had become an integral part of the Drama Wing of Radio Kashmir Srinagar. I did not dare to look at the book in which there were a couple of stills from the famous stage play Khaloojan Ka Khwab, written by Ali Mohammad Lone about which, I am told, she had talked in her swan song interview on D D Srinagar, which she could not even complete. So sad. I just can’t believe that the woman who had a fire of passion within to break shackles and fight for justice had just flew away beyond the limits of the unknown.
I had met Rita Ji in Radio Kashmir, Jammu Studios where I had gone on an official errand around1955. I entered the Drama Section where my counterpart and friend Jitendra Sharma was conducting rehearsal of a play that was to broadcast in a couple of days. I didn’t want to disturb them and was about to withdraw, when Jitendra Ji brought me in and then introduced his cast to me. When he said, and this is Rita Langer. Langer, the surname was somewhat familial. Langars are ? “Kashmiri, yes I am a Kashmiri but not a Kashmiri speaking one.” Then she chuckled. I was mum and did not know how to react because her personality was such.. Any way they started the rehearsal. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw how articulate she was and how fearless in expressing her opinion about the dialogue or the situations developed by the playwright. The broadcasts those days were live. I was staying with Jitendra Ji and listened to the broadcast in his house in Ambphala. The production was slick and Rita the heroine was amazing. What a voice and what expressions through it were the highlights of the production. We had paucity of Urdu drama voices with correct pronunciation in Srinagar and I felt jealous of Jitendra.
Time passed. Then one day I got a letter from our Jammu Station transferring the details of category and fees etc. of Rita Langer, as she was known those days, had been transferred to the Girl’s College Srinagar and was thereby permitted to participate in our programmes. So naturally I was very happy. Later on one day Zia Durrani one of our regular artists, who also was teaching in Girl’s College, brought Rita Ji along with her to my room. By then we were not strangers and we started with right earnest. She soon jelled well with my other artists like Roop Madan, Zia Durrani Uma Khosla Rani Mehboob Bashir Butt Manoher Prothi Farhat Hussain and of course my wife Shanta Kaul. It was during those very years that Tagore centenary celebrations came up. Radio Kashmir Srinagar had a very active Akashvani Club at that time. Besides adapting Tagore’s major plays for broadcast we planned to produce a couple of his plays for stage too. It was rather difficult to motivate the lady artists to act on stage . But I must give full credit to Rita Langar, Zia Durrani and other senior artists to come forward. So the first play we staged wasTagore’s Malancho (Phulwari). And after that Khudita Pashan ( Hungry Stones) was taken up for production. Both these plays of Tagore were staged with great success in the Neadous’ Hotel Hall. It was a revelation in both these plays what a genius of an actor Rita JI was. Her grasp over the inner depths of the theme of a play was amazing. And her portrayal of characters which were pivotal was so real that you forgot that it was Rita Langer the actor on stage but Tagore’s character that had walked out of the pages of his book.
Tagore Centenary was over, but not the activities of Akashvani Club. I produced and directed about four more major plays for it after which Rita Ji was transferred back to Jammu.
Difficult plays, Like Moliere’s ‘The Miser’ adapted by Hazrat Awara Under the title Kanjoos, stage adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novel My Uncle’s Dream by Ali Mohammad Lone with the title, Khaloojan Ka Khwab, Budh Kam Shudh by I.S. Johar.
That was the period when my friend Jitendra Sharma and Rita Langar had got closer and were planning to get married; which they finally did. So my bond with him got cemented and remained in tact till he passed away. It was after a big gap we again had a chance to work together.
And that was when I was recording the sound track of the Verse play on Tipu Sultan for the state Academy. I had auditioned Ram Kumar Abrol another great radio voice for dubbing fot Tipu Sultan. After failing to get a suitable voice in Srinagar to lend her voice to Tipu Sultan’s wife Ruqqaiya, my choice was Rita Jitedra. It was so gracious of her having travelled to Srinagar to oblige.
The role was very difficult and full of histrionics but at the same time had to carry the dignity of royalty too with it even in death. It was Rita Ji’s genius that the actor’s final presentation on stage was taken to great heights.
Rita Ji was in love with the mike and had fully understood its potential. And she used it like very few have. Age had not affected her voice. It was ever fresh ever green. I mourn her death but at the same time feel jealous. What a grand finale for an artist and a broadcaster. I am reminded of Raj Kapoor fading out with his Dada Sahib Phalke Award.
(The author is a Broadcaster and
Padma Shri Awardee)


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