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Pankaj Kapur’s “Dopehri”, presented by his theatre group Theatron and produced by Supriya Pathak Kapur, though, goes a step further. It makes us forget the questions we arrived with, leaving us reeling instead with the power of its story and the beauty of its depth. Performed recently for the 18th edition of Bharat Rang Mahotsav, the play also marked Kapur’s return to the NSD stage after three decades. A dramatic rendering of the novella by the same name, written by Kapur two decades ago, “Dopehri' lacks the usual aspects that make a conventional play. Kapur, the only person on stage, is accompanied by minimalist stage sets and ambient music as he reads straight from the text he holds in his hand. “Dopehri” would perhaps be better described as a dramatic narration. But almost as soon as it starts, the technicalities become irrelevant, and the story Kapur tells us takes centre stage. We are transported to the streets of Lucknow and introduced to Amma bi, a lonely old widow who lives in “laal haveli”, almost entirely alone, except for her servant Jumman, who comes daily, and occasional visits by her late husband's friend, Dr. Saxena. Her home is large and sprawling, magnifying Amma bi's loneliess more and more, till it takes on monstrous proportions. It visits her at night, like a spectre would, sending her into fits of fear which keep her awake. Jumman, good hearted but bumbling and naive, suggests an old age home near-by, egged on by a profiteering friend. Fortunately, just as she is almost convinced to move, Amma bi is warned away from the home by a friend who is a resident there. Her loneliness finally forces her to keep a tenant at “laal haveli”, and the story takes a new turn with Sabiha's arrival. In Sabiha, Amma bi finds a companion, a confidante and finally, a vehicle of self-discovery. With each character Kapur writes and channels, he changes tones, both with the words he uses and the inflection of his own voice. He becomes, as he reads their words, the vulnerable but complex Amma bi, the well meaning doctor, the independent Sabiha, the sweetly bumbling Jumman. Even as he remains himself, narrating the story, Kapur manages to make himself disappear. Instead, we find ourselves able to picture the haveli we cannot see and the people we can only imagine. One of the strengths of “Dopehri” is in the way it uses words; in the way it alternates in intensity, switching from light playful innocence to the helpless misery that loneliness can bring. Kapur’s command over the words he uses is arresting, each turn of phrase beautiful, and the play shot through with an almost poetic quality, charming in its simplicity but moving in its depth. In charting Amma bi’s journey, Kapur also introduces us to the intricate nature of human existence. Amma bi’s own journey from vulnerable loneliness to a self-discovery and confidence is touching, and the scene where she regains, in a way, her own name, so far lost under the wraps of the many roles she has played – daughter, mother, wife, is nothing short of triumphant. Kapur’s understanding of human nature, its doubts and fears and motivations, reflects is the way he rounds off each character, adding nuances and subtleties that lifts them. We already recognise Kapur as a name to be reckoned with, his repertoire of roles both impressive and daunting. With “Dopehri”, Kapur proves his excellence yet again, not just as an actor, but also as a writer and story-teller.  Read More...

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