Celebrated Indian Thespian Lilette Dubey brings production to London…
EVERYBODY loves a diva – don’t they?
At one time Indian theatre companies were full of them – some will remember such figures as Zohra Segal who featured more latterly in ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ (2002) and who is still going strong, having passed a 100 years in age.
The latest theatre production by Indian touring company Primetime, ‘Where did I leave my Purdah’ is a blend of comedy and intense family drama centred around just such a diva, Nazia Sahiba.
Ravishingly beautiful and graceful in her youth, she plays Shakuntala, the lead part in one of celebrated ancient poet Kalidas’ great works that goes by that name.
Selfish, self-centred and almost monstrously egotistical, the theatre company Nazia has created revolves around her and her dreams.
Played and directed by Lilette Dubey, one of India’s best known theatre figures, Nazia is a shadow of her former self but still holds out hope of resurrecting her theatre company as we switch to the modern day.
Moving back and forth in time, we see her as the young Shankuntala (Neha Dubey) and we also learn of her sister, equally beautiful and able to play the lead part, but far less precious or pushy.
Back in the 1940s, Nazia falls hopelessly in love with her leading man, Dushyant (in ‘Shakuntala’) and Suhel (in ‘Where Did I leave my Purdah’) but amidst the troubles of Partition, their mixed-religion (Nazia is Muslim, Suhel Hindu) love affair turns sour as they migrate to India, and on the journey, they witness terrible events and Nazia herself is severely traumatised.
In the present, she blocks out the painful memories, continuing to play her role as a diva, despite her declining days. She throws her energies into the revival of her theatre company and discovering a new Shakuntala, while making money in a superficial Bollywood role.
Her niece, Ruby is embittered and unforgiving, but holds out a lifeline not just in terms of sponsorship for her aunt’s new venture, but in finding a new Shakuntala, her daughter, Nikhat.
Written by contemporary writer, Mahesh Dattani, the 90-minute play moves fast and while at the beginning there is comedy and much mirth, it opens out into far a more intense piece as it progresses.
Almost piece by piece, Nazia’s attempts to block out the past are dismantled and she is left with the sight of her own naked ambition and selfish decisions.
Much has changed since the 1940s and that bruising love affair with the Hindu Suhel, but she remains in her own mind, the victim.
Lilette Dubey fills the part with energy and characteristic flair and mischief – and as Nazia never fails to raise a smile or knowing sympathy, but of course, beneath all that is an attempt to put a distance between herself and the events of the 1940s.
Neha, her daughter as the young Shakuntala, brings youthful zest and polish and a charmed beauty, more troubling than comforting.
Suhel played by Sid Makkar, who inhabits two other very different characters, does well to give each his very distinctive hue and cry.
‘Where Did I leave my Purdah’ blends comedy and seriousness without letting either totally dominate – some will enjoy that, others may find it too slight on either front, but as a piece of entertainment it works and carries its audience along with skill and aplomb.
- ‘Where Did I leave my Purdah’, written by Mahesh Dattani, directed by Lilette Dubey at Watermans, Brentford, until Sunday (September 28) with matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets £15/£12.50
- Box office 020 8232 1010
Picture: Vinay (Sid Makkar) and Nazia (Lilette Dubey) by ©Ravi Juneja