Director Hidayat Sami is praying that the legendary Rekha and Muzaffar Ali come to watch his play based on the novel by Mirza Muhammed Hadi Ruswa. This is one prayer we all can join in, as any connoisseur of literature, poetry and theatre would love to see the original Umrao Jaan of Hindi cinema watching Neetu Chandra enacting her ada on stage.
“My play is a humble tribute to the film, the woman and the times of Umrao Jaan,” says Sami, adding cheekily that there are no guesses as to which film he is talking about. As the remake of the original 1981 Umrao Jaan made by JP Dutta with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan sank without a trace in 2006, isn’t it a bad idea to enact something so brave on stage? Sami admits it is not a very brilliant idea, yet he is ready to take his chances. “The story is so interesting that I couldn’t hold myself back. Also, we have been doing too many plays in English. It is high time that Hindi and Urdu plays should come back in the limelight,” he says adding that today’s youth is smart enough to take what is good and reject what doesn’t appeal.
The 1905 novel is adapted by Purva Naresh, who has also choreographed few scenes in the play.
“It is a classic and hence it will be sacrilegious to change the basic story. The contemporary touch is the fact that even today the story is as relevant as it was in 1856, in which era the novel is based,” she says. Purva believes that Umrao was no different than today’s women. “She was brave, adaptable and talented. The way we are,” she adds. Sami, however, thinks that nothing much has changed from 1856 to 2013. “Even today, our women are in boundaries. Even today women are trying to become independent, and society is against it,” he says.
The star cast
Apart from Neetu Chandra who is playing the protagonist, the play boasts of many prominent names. Niranjan Iyengar for a change has not only written songs but also acted in the play. Few songs are written by none other than Nida Fazli not to forget the original poems by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. “The play will be incomplete without Babul Mora...,” says Sami. Rekha Bhardwaj is debuting as a music composer in Umrao.
Actress Neetu Chandra said, "I am fortunate that out of all the actors Ruswa’s Umaro came to me. Rekha ji’s Umrao was a movie, mine is a play. it will not be right to compare the two..."
Not a dancer
“My biggest battle while adapting the novel was the deglamourisation of Umrao Jaan, In our movies a tawaiif is essentially very glamorous and beautiful girl. In fact, Umrao was neither very beautiful nor glamorous. Her only talent was her poetry,” informs Purva. Actually, she was not even a dancer. “We did a lot of research and came to the conclusion that Umrao was not a dancer; she only recited poetry and did ada,” concludes Sami.
Umrao will be premiered on November 7 at Prithvi Theatre