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Bringing life to stage

DIWAN SINGH BAJELI

Veteran Urdu playwright Yograj Tandon turns nostalgic.


It was my participation in Ramlila that initiated me into theatre. We all used to enact Ramlila irrespective of our religious beliefs



A RECOGNITION Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral with Yograj Tandon (right).

`Life inspires me to write plays, to capture its myriad shades,' says Yograj Tandon, an Urdu playwright who was honoured with Hum Sub Ghalib Award recently for his contribution to enrich Urdu drama and theatre. "When I wrote `Bhatti', my first full-length play, I dramatised the way railway workers were working near a furnace. I observed how the red-hot iron in liquid form was used to produce equipments. The working conditions were extremely hazardous. To depict these brave men objectively, I stayed with them in their homes in shanty areas for a week. Their living conditions were pathetic and appalling."

Born in 1931, in Qila Shekhupura, near Lahore, Tandon has written five full-length plays and a one-act drama. A collection of his plays has appeared with the title "Natak To Hoga". Almost all his plays have been staged and he has himself directed some of these on stage as well as for radio and television.

Having devoted nearly 50 years to theatre and drama, he recalls his early days in his native place in Pakistan. "It was my participation in Ramlila that initiated me into theatre. We all used to enact Ramlila irrespective of our religious beliefs. A Muslim boy used to play the role of Laxman. Those were the occasions of social rejoicing," he says nostalgically.

Kapoor company

He speaks with a sense of pride about his experience of working with the legendary Prithviraj Kapoor both as his assistant director and his secretary. "In fact, Prithviraj Kapoor and my father F. C. Tandon were classmates at Khalsa High School, Layalpur. He treated my father like his own elder brother. Though his social and economic status was very but class differences never stood in the way of our close relationship. Whenever he used to come to Delhi from Mumbai he would decline the hospitality of the rich and famous and would stay with us like our family member. He inspired my brother Lekh Tandon to become a filmmaker and called me to join him in Mumbai to become a member of his troupe. In Mumbai, I used to discuss my plays with him and Rajendra Singh Bedi. This interaction helped me a lot to hone my craft as a playwright."

During his six years of stay with Prithviraj and his troupe, Yograj observed his style of working, his views on theatre, his integrity as an artiste and his awareness about the changing contemporary social condition. Prithviraj was president of the railway employees union. As his secretary, Yograj used to accompany him at the time of his meetings with railway employees. All these facets of the personality of the great artist are incorporated in Yograj's book titled "Theatre Ke Sartaj-Prithviraj."

Social awareness

Elaborating artistic credo of Kapoor, Yograj comments, "To Prithviraj Kapoor theatre was not merely entertainment, its purpose was to create social awareness. All the artists were treated equally, lived and ate in the style of a commune. Recalling his artistic integrity, Yograj says,

"Our troupe was on a tour in Jodhpur. The ruler wanted to see our plays. He wanted to delete the song "Bhookhi Praja Ke Raaja, Nangi Praja Ke Raaja, Kaisa Tere Raaj". He also insisted that the show should be performed only for him and the common man should not be allowed to attend. Prithviraj Kapoor refused to accept his conditions. Finally, the ruler came on his own to see the production and was very much impressed."

For the last six years Yograj has been writing on culture, literature, music and theatre for the Urdu daily Qaumi Awaz. He is optimistic about the future of Urdu drama. "Urdu plays and theatre have a great legacy. Aagha Hashr Kashmiri was one of the great playwrights that Urdu has produced. I love the enthralling power of Urdu theatre and the powerful and witty dialogue of Urdu drama."

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