Come February 26, and iconic play Tumhari Amrita will turn 20 years old. The first staging of the Indian adaptation of AR Gurney’s American play, Love Letters, took place at Prithvi Theatre in the city in 1992 as part of Jennifer Kapoor’s birth anniversary celebrations. Back then, Shabana Azmi, who plays Amrita, and Farooque Sheikh, who plays Zulfi, had thought that the play would go on to have about half a dozen shows, at best.
“In fact, Feroz (director Feroz Abbas Khan) had toyed with the idea of having different couples playing the lead roles,” recalls Shabana, who will play Amrita once again at the play’s 20th anniversary shows in Delhi and Mumbai this week.
“No one had a clue that it would become such a success, and that Farooque and I would become synonymous with Zulfi and Amrita. The premiere show received a standing ovation. Over two decades, that hasn’t changed.”
The two actors, needless to say, have started preparing with Feroz, who was absent from a couple of shows. “I get very insecure without him (Feroz),” she reveals, adding that Amrita is one of her all-time favourite characters. “She’s sensitive, flawed, intense, indulgent and attractive. Each one of us has an Amrita in us.”
The 61-year-old, who feels that writer Javed Siddiqui is the real star of the play, admits she has cried at every single show, thanks to the dialogue. “Zulfi and Amrita speak beautiful Urdu. The play celebrates our composite culture as a given,” she says.
When asked if husband Javed Akhtar was with her at the first staging, Shabana admits he was, adding, “We had a disastrous dress rehearsal that demoralised us, but he was confident that the play would work. He has watched it several times over since 1992.”