Romancing the WORDSMITH

Prem Utsav
Theatre activist Mujeeb Khan's group IDEA staged 50 plays on Munshi Premchand's stories in a 10-day festival, Prem Utsav

Many years ago when playwright and director Mujeeb Khan first read Munshi Premchand's story, Kafan, about a poor man who collects money for the funeral rites of his dead wife, it left an indelible impact on his mind. Gradually Khan, a literature student, started reading the author's works diligently and learnt about his life. Five years ago on the writer's 125th birth anniversary, the theatre activist decided to pay a tribute to him through a 10-day long theatre festival, Prem Utsav, and a series called as Aadab Main Premchand Hoon.

Since then the festival has become an annual event where Khan and his Mumbai-based theatre group - Ideal Drama and Entertainment Academy (IDEA) - stage plays on the author's short stories. Till date, they have staged 238 plays. This year, IDEA staged 50 plays as part of Aadab Main Premchand Hoon, that was held from August 1 -10 at Sathaye College in Mumbai. Some of them were Badnaseeb Maa, Mandir Masjid, Miss Padma, Lottery and Kafan.

"We had first staged Premchand's stories like Bade Bhaaisaab, Pashtava and Sava Ser Gehu. But we started enjoying the whole process of staging plays based on the litterateur's stories. Rather than adapting his plays, I chose his stories as the whole challenge lies in staging a play on a story and doing justice to it," says Khan.

According to the theatre activist, the most difficult task that he faces is to stay as close to the story as possible and transport the audience to the era as depicted in Premchand's works. "Munshiji's works were set in a certain period. So I ensure that the era is created in my plays through the make-up, costumes, lighting and backdrop. I also focus on the language as he would write in chaste Hindi and Urdu," explains Khan.

He also chose Munshiji's stories as they are relevant in the present social milieu. "He would deal with topics like poverty and romance that are still prevalent today. In 1911, he had written a short story, Kanooni Kumar, in which he has mentioned that it was time to pass a women's bill. Early this year, the women's reservation bill was passed. In 1916, he had tackled the subject of a live-in relationship in Miss Padma. Today, live-in relationships are rampant. Munshiji had an amazing foresight."

Apart from the author, Khan is keen on celebrating festivals on famous literary figures like Rabindranath Tagore, Ismat Chugtai and Saadat Hasan Manto. His next venture is a festival of plays based on Tagore's stories and poetry and is called Namaste Main Rabindranath Tagore Hoon. "Just like we have archaeological society that preserves old monuments, I consider myself as a theatre archaeologist responsible for preserving the works of literary greats and presenting them to today's generation."

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