By Sonya Rehman
What happens when two brilliant poets are drawn to each other? What happens when they’re separated by distance, but their connection to one another is so strong that the feeling between them continues to blossom, spreading its roots, strengthening its hold on their hearts? Sahir Ludhianvi and Amrita Pritam, two widely successful poets, endured an ardent love for each other for many years on end, their works reflecting – directly and indirectly – the common bond, affection and passion. But their love story hung in limbo, it remained unfinished business; they could never be together, and, perhaps, in that very heartbreak there is beauty and inspiration. Why? Because Sahir and Amrita taught us what love really is.
This year, early next month, Sopritti Events brings to stage (in Dubai), two accomplished actors – Shekhar Suman and Deepti Naval in Ek Mulaqaat, to resuscitate and relive Sahir and Amrita’s enchanting love story. In an exclusive with Masala! Magazine, the eminent actors speak about their characters and what impacted them most about the love story.
What inspired you to take on this role?
Shekhar Suman: It was Sahir all the way. He was my biggest inspiration and he remains my biggest inspiration. I’ve grown up idolizing him and reading about him. To me he was a revolutionary poet, a leftist, on the other hand, he was undoubtedly one of the greatest and perhaps, one of the most sensitive, romantic poets of all times. It is my biggest privilege to play him in Ek Mulaqaat.
Deepti Naval: I always wanted to play Amrita because I knew her personally and I was very close to her; I knew her for many, many years. Whenever I’d go to Delhi I’d make it a point to visit her. I was greatly inspired by her, she was also instrumental in getting my first book of poetry published. She encouraged me a lot.
What spoke to you most about Sahir and Amrita’s story?
Deepti Naval: The story got me because of the ambiguity of that meeting, you know, it’s half imagined, half contrived. The whole story takes place in a very surreal space – it’s the ambiguity of that which I found very fascinating and the fact that they’re able to talk essential things about their lives, their own equation with each other, their equation vis-à-vis other issues and other people…it’s a very well-written play.
Shekhar Suman: I think the maturity with which they handled their buoyant love affair, the silences, the intensity, and their integrity.
Deepti, you too, are a published poet – how did Amrita’s character resound with you?
I’ve obviously been able to relate with Amrita for a very long time because she writes in Punjabi, which is my mother tongue. However, I don’t speak Punjabi much because I only speak it only with my mother and she lives in the US. But Amrita’s Punjabi really fascinates me because it’s very real Punjabi, it’s very grass-root, her language is not easy, it’s very academic or literary, which very few people speak.
Shekhar, could you relate with Sahir? What’s your take on him as a character, a man forever in love with, and besotted by, Amrita?
I’m an eternal romantic like Sahir, I understand his pain and pathos, he was a man forever in love but totally reticent about it. He was besotted by Amrita but didn’t have the guts to marry her. He oscillated between two extreme emotions: one extreme of being totally shy and chivalrous, and on the other hand, he was a short-tempered, arrogant, bumptious and flamboyant.
What is your favourite part in the play?
Deepti Naval: I have two favourite parts; one is the very light-hearted banter between Sahir and Amrita because they’re slightly cheeky about asking each other certain questions which really could have been avoided asking! But it’s very sweetly done. Also one very intense part in the play was when they recall partition and the unfortunate circumstances that followed; how Hindus and Muslims started killing each other as the exodus happened from both sides of the Punjab. Many women were raped and killed. That resulted in a poem, Amrita’s quintessential poem that she is known for. It’s about the women who suffered during that time. Each time I recite it on stage, I am moved, and it’s as if I am confronting the poem for the first time. It’s a very emotionally charged moment for me on stage.
Shekhar Suman: I love this line in the play when Sahir says; saza ka haal sunaye, jaza ki baat kerain, khuda mila ho jinay, woh khuda ki baat kerain, haar aik daur ka mazhab, aik naya khuda laya, kerain toh hum bhee magar, kiss khuda ki baat kerain.
What do you want your audiences in Dubai to take away from this poignant production?
Deepti Naval: First of all I’d want people to let the romance of this play seep into their souls, the romance of those times in which Amrita and Sahir lived. The passion of those times, they were not just poets who talked about love and romance – they were charged about everything they felt strong about; every aspect of their existence, and the way they brought it into their work and expressed their feelings through their poetry…it’s really a treasure trove.
Shekhar Suman: Love, and to understand that love is never without pain.
Saif Hyder Hasan, Director, Ek Mulaqaat:
“Individually, Sahir Ludhianvi and Amrita Pritam have been path breakers. Both are iconoclasts in the real sense of the term. So when one looks at them one is filled with a sense of awe.”
“Sahir was an interesting personality to say the least. There were several contradictions within him. A diehard socialist, he wore suits, drank scotch and stayed in a bungalow. Unlike several of his contemporaries, he was lucky to die before the Soviet Union broke up and was thus spared an identity crisis. Though, he had an almost mythical relationship with Amrita Pritam, he was definitely linked to other women.”
“In my opinion, it was only on a public platform that Sahir did not profess his love to Amrita. That could be more of a personality issue. But yes, what would have happened had Sahir and Amrita been married? Would their love have retained its intensity? As a line in the play goes ‘Would I have been a worthy companion? Wouldn’t you have drifted away from me?’”
Ek Mulaqaat venue: DUCTAC Theatre, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai
Dates: 5th June to 6th June,
Phone: +971 4 3414777