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Tumhari Amrita overwhelms audiences in Pakistan

The 14-year-old play featuring Farooq Sheikh and Shabana Azmi raised Rs 10 million for earthquake victims in India and Pakistan.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2006 19:54 IST
Subhash K. Jha (Indo-Asian News Service)
Subhash K. Jha (Indo-Asian News Service)

The 14-year-old journey of the play Tumhari Amrita has crossed India's borders, with Farooq Sheikh and Shabana Azmi performing three shows of their hugely popular play in Pakistan.

And in the process, they raised Rs10 million ($224,600) for victims of last year's earthquake in India and Pakistan.

"We had two shows in Karachi and one in Islamabad. And we managed to raise Rs.10 million for the quake victims. The play has always got Farooq and me a standing ovation.

"But what we saw in Pakistan was unbelievable. There were people who paid through their nose to stand in the aisles and watch us perform. The organisers were in tears. They wanted us for at least 10 days.

"The president (Pervez Musharraf) couldn't come because he was in China. But his mother and daughter came. All the movers and shakers of Pakistan were there," said Shabana.

The three shows took place on Feb 22, 23 and 24.

"You know the original pile of letters that I had to read on stage has gone from 100 pages to 300 because 'Tumhari' has to be written on one page and 'Amrita' on another. I can't read without my specs. I joke with Farooq that the play will follow us into the other world after death. And we shall be performing it there," Shabana said.

Adapted by Javed Siddiqui from A.R. Gurney's Love Letters, the play etches the relationship between the two protagonists, Amrita (Shabana Azmi) and Zulfi (Farooq Shaikh) over a lifetime through a series of letters.

Devoid of any theatrics, the two characters have only two tables and two chairs as props. Except for the magic of the spoken word, very little supplements the action.

Shabana recalled the response the play got when they performed it 14 years ago.

"When we did our first dress rehearsal we thought the audience would rain whip lashes on us. It was the worst dress rehearsal ever. Javed saab looked at Farooq and me and said, 'You can't give a worse performance. But let me tell you the play will be a success.' We thought we would have six shows of Tumhari Amrita at the most.

"The play's journey has been so tumultuous, gratifying and satisfying. Director Feroz Khan has lost all his hair. He says we can perform the play even in an airborne flight," the versatile actor said.

"Once in New Jersey, Farooq and I reached two hours late because the driver lost his way. The audience first booed us, then it gave us a standing ovation."

Once before a performance in Mumbai, Shabana got arrested before the show and her fans waited for hours.

"Some slum dwellers and I were charged with rioting in a slum in Colaba when we were doing just the opposite. My show was slated for 6 p.m.

"The 1,000-strong audience was told that the heroine was arrested. They had the choice of getting their money refunded. But the audience waited until 8.p.m. when I was released. Then we got the most tumultuous standing ovation ever!

"Tumhari Amrita has given Farooq and me the ability to forget everything and just focus on the stage for two hours. We have performed 300 shows and each time our eyes fill up with tears at exactly the same moments.

"It's because Javed Siddiqui has written the play so beautifully. And now it has brought India and Pakistan slightly closer."

Shabana feels it's time for the two countries to come close.

"There has been a sea change in Pakistan since I last shot there for 'Immaculate Conception' in 1992. People really want to be friends. It is no longer the era of separate countries.

"If India and Pakistan work as one we can give the European Union a run for its money."

Shabana thinks the Indian and Pakistani film industry should go in for co-productions.

"And I am not just talking about releasing our films in Pakistan. That's very advantageous to us. But for them to feel enthusiastic we need to go into collaborative filmmaking.

"It would create awareness in the world market. Pakistan has so many talented actors and writers. It would be a win-win situation for both the countries.

"We have to set aside political considerations and get down to being friends. People in Pakistan are dying to have trade and cultural links between the two countries," she said.

First Published: Mar 14, 2006 11:53 IST