In a conversation earlier this month eminent theatre director Salim Arif elaborated on a very fundamental element of theatre. He said “The great thing about theatre is that there is an audience which is willingly surrendering its power to you. There is a suspension of belief.” But he says that for that to happen the performance has to be able to give sufficient signals and clues to the audience to be able to believe that what is being portrayed is true.
If what he said was a theoretical postulation of an ideal theatrical performance, Salim Arif and Lubna Salim showed in practice precisely what is meant by this “suspension of belief”. On Saturday evening when entire city of Agra was witnessing torrential rains, some theatre enthusiasts were braving the weather to arrive at Soorsadan auditorium in the heart of the city. Eminent theatre, television and film artists Lubna Salim was performing a solo performance in the play ‘Gudamba’ written by Javed Siddiqui and directed by Salim Arif.
With a familiar tune from a 80’s song playing in the auditorium, Lubna arrived and took centre stage. Playing the role of Amina, a simple girl from a middle class, traditional Muslim family, she was narrating her life story in a direct interface with the audience. Starting from her youth she took the audience on a journey of her life through her early married days, the subsequent bumps in the road and eventually ended with her becoming a mother and ultimately a grandmother. The stage setting was functionally minimalist and not abstract as minimalism usually tends to be.
In about two hours’ long performance Lubna used the entire stage with wonderfully orchestrated movements and meaningful use of the space. A monologue which started immediately at the beginning of the play ended only with the last line to end the play. During these absorbing two hours Lubna travelled not only through time but also locations, characters, plots and situations with seamless transitions all throughout. Using different accents, body language, voice modulations and facial expressions for all the ten or so characters, she not only portrayed their peculiar styles and habits but also their idiosyncrasies and thoughts. In solo performances usually the script gives the opportunity to the artist to be over-dramatic or surreal in some moments which allows the actor a convenience of contrast in portraying the different characters. But this performance was rooted in realistic and behavioural ethos which could have made the task of changing characters with subtle nuances more difficult in this case. But Lubna Salim was on point all the way.
Proving Salim Arif’s point about the audience’s suspension of belief and surrendering their power to the artists, the play effectively transported the audiences to different scenarios which were being presented on stage. The use of light and sound also played an important role in this as even in the classical unity of time and space, different settings were evoked efficiently through these two elements.
But there was another suspension of belief which was internal to the play in what can be called an allegorical coincidence. Through the story of Amina’s character, Javed Siddiqui has portrayed an archetype of women who through in part of their own volition and in part of their surrounding realities, themselves remain in a suspended reality. They surrender their power to the world around them and begin to “go with the flow”. As these young women enter their world of marital bliss, they remain filled with joys, hopes and the rush of a newly minted marital bond. The element of romance allows them to escape reality, even if it’s their own. But as the novelty of a new relationship wears off, reality becomes too amplified and pronounced to be ignored. Amina too suffers this inevitable ebb and flow. From not being in control of her own life to wanting to be so but not being able to and then eventually taking charge of her own self, Amina passes through all the stages of life in a length of the play.
While this story could have been too harsh and overwhelming, the writing of the play does not allow it to be so. The play has wonderful moments of comic relief which let the story oscillate between serious and comedic emotions, as life is too. But these moments couldn’t have been realised, were it not for Lubna Salim’s wonderful range of acting, who expressed emotions of grief, sorrow and anger as brilliantly as her comedy. ‘Gudamba’ which is a name for a strange dish made out of jaggery and unripe mangoes, which is sweet yet sour, liquid yet solid was a perfect name for the play.
This was the third overall performance by Lubna Salim in direction of Salim Arif in and first solo performance in Agra, which was organised by the local theatre group Ranglok Sanskritik Sansthan. With such performances, the theatre scene of the city and region is bound to expand, as Salim Arif envisions and hopes for.