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Deepti Naval to play Amrita Pritam on stage in Singapore


Singapore : “Ek Mulaqaat”, a play starring Deepti Naval and Shekhar Suman as novelist Amrita Pritam and poet-lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi, will be staged in Singapore.

Performed in Hindi and Urdu with English subtitles, the play will be staged at the Esplanade Theatre on April 29 and is co-presented by Teamwork Productions and Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, the Straits Times reported today.

“Ek Mulaqaat” will travel this year to the United States and Australia after a well-received 50-weekend run in Mumbai.

Naval, 59, made her mark in Bollywood with 1981 comedy “Chashme Baddoor” and “Ankahi”.

Unlike her peers, such as Shabana Azmi, Naval stayed clear of theatre work.

“I always thought I wouldn’t do well on stage,” The Straits Times quoted her as saying in a telephone interview from Mumbai.

“I don’t have a big voice, I don’t have that kind of projection and I always thought I would forget my lines.”

She changed her mind two years ago, when playwright-director Saif Hyder Hasan asked her to play Pritam in his new work co-written with Sumana Ahmed.

“I became completely enamoured of the idea that I would play someone I knew personally. I was a little scared as well. I had to be careful I didn’t misrepresent her,” Naval said.

Pritam was one of the literary stars of post-World War II India and much-admired for her writings in Hindi and Punjabi, such as the 1950 novel Pinjar (Skeleton). The book detailed the savage religious clashes and violence against women during the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan. It was made into a critically acclaimed film of the same name in 2003.

Ludhianvi, two years Pritam’s junior, was a popular poet who became even better known from the 1950s until his death in 1980 through the lyrics he wrote for film.

Some of his songs, including the 1970s hit Kabhi Kabhi Mere Dil Mein (Sometimes, In My Heart), have been set to new music by composer Parivesh Singh for Ek Mulaqaat to put the focus back on Ludhianvi’s lyrics – an act that even actors Naval and Suman initially decried as heresy.

Naval begged a film director for an introduction to Pritam in 1980 and continued to visit her in Delhi until the older woman died in 2005.

The actress even read her poems out to Pritam for criticism before her collection, Lamha Lamha (or “moments”), was published in 1981.

She remembers Pritam as “very gentle on the surface, very strong on the inside”. They spoke a few times of Ludhianvi, whose writings captured the writer’s heart back in the 1940s.

“She had this huge admiration for him, but it wa unrequited. It wasn’t a love affair like we know it. It was all in the mind.”

Pritam and Ludhianvi interacted mostly through writings and letters and the rare meeting detailed sensually in the novelist’s memoirs.

“Her real-life love story was with Imroz Sahib,” Naval says, referring to the artist who was Pritam’s partner of 40 years.

“Her adulation for him never diminished. This kind of devotion doesn’t exist anymore, that you would spend half your life in love with somebody and you never even see that person. One or two meetings is enough,” the Singapore daily quoted Naval as saying.

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