Bhisham Sahni: Bringing to life the works of a legend

  • Manali Shah, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Aug 08, 2015 16:29 IST

In a small studio in Versova, the team of Bhishmotsav is hard at work. A few artisans are creating and painting props in the tiny balcony as we enter a spacious room. Two steel trunks lie open, overflowing with hats, wigs, fake garlands, bandhani dupattas, quilts, a sherwani and a trumpet, among other things. A small couch, and an even smaller table, a low makeshift bed and a few chairs make up the furniture.

In the centre of the room, veteran theatre actor Seema Pahwa, dressed up as an old woman, is propped up on the bed. Ratna Pathak Shah, also impersonating an elderly person with a shawl covering her head, is talking to Seema in chaste Hindi. They are old friends reminiscing about their youthful adventures. Suddenly, they change personas. They’re now giggling like teenage girls, teasing each other and performing a fugdi (a traditional, fun activity involving spinning). Ratna switches effortlessly from an old woman to a young girl to the narrator.

At the end of the 10-minute act, there’s some applause. Personalities such as Naseeruddin Shah, Manoj Pahwa, Yashpal Sharma and Heeba Shah comprise the audience. They take turns to practise their parts, and discuss the nuances of each act. Seema and Manoj’s children, Mayank and Manukriti, are also part of the cast. The actors are preparing to stage Bhishmotsav, a two-day event to commemorate the birth centenary of the renowned Hindi writer — Bhisham Sahni.

Naseeruddin Shah. (Pratham Gokhale/HT photo)

While Seema and Sharma love the simplicity of Sahni’s literature, Ratna praises his keen observation of people’s lives. Naseeruddin, who has also acted in Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho!, says, "When I met Bhisham Sahni, I had no idea what a great writer he was. I didn’t know what to say. I’m afraid I didn’t have a conversation with him. I wish I had though. It’s a delight to discover his stories. His self-effacing, charming and gentle personality comes across in his writings as well."

The artistes feel that an important aspect of Sahni’s stories is the ability to transcend the era they were penned in. "They are still relevant," says Manoj, adding, "Take Dholak, for instance. It is about an educated young man who dismisses traditions but is accepting of them when an outsider appreciates the same customs. I find that today’s generation is the same."

Ratna Pathak Shah and Seema Pahwa. (Pratham Gokhale/HT photo)

Five short stories — Oob, Sir ka Sadka, Dholak, Yaadien and Samadhi Bhai Ramsingh — by the award-winning writer will be enacted. The festival has been conceptualised by Seema, who came across Sahni’s writings as a child. It left a deep impact on her and, of late, the co-founder of Kopal Theatre, felt the need to revive Hindi literature. Two films — Tamas (1987, based on a story by Sahni) and Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho! (1984, starring Sahni) will be screened.

Bhishmotsav will be held on August 8 and 9, 7.30pm onward
Where: National Centre for the Performing Arts, Nariman Point
Call: 2282 4567
Tickets: Rs 400 onward on

Yashpal Sharma. (Pratham Gokhale/HT photo)

Heeba Shah.
(Pratham Gokhale/HT photo)

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