Writers of Parsi Theatre in Urdu
The first Urdu play was Sone ke mol ki Khurshed, a translation by Behram Fardun Marzban of a Gujarati drama by Edalji Khori. It was commissioned for the Victoria Theatrical Company by Dadi Patel in 1871. The writer made two claims for using Urdu language. One was that the language stretched beyond specific communities and therefore increased the audience for Parsi Theatre. Also, it enhanced the literary status of theatre by connecting it to rich narrative and lyric traditions. This play, along with other Urdu dramas of the time, had the peculiarity of being printed in the Gujarati script. The Arabic script only began to be used for printed Urdu plays a decade later. The Gujarati script reveals the lack of literacy in Urdu among the public who bought and used these plays. The next Urdu translator/playwright, who was also a Parsi and a non-native speaker of Urdu, was Aram. Aram left three Gujarati prefaces, a good indicator that his readers were literate in Gujarati.
Mahmud Miyan 'Raunaq', was the next Urdu playwright of accord. He was a prolific writer for the Victoria Company in the 1870's and 1880's. He was the first non-Parsi to write dramas for the Parsi theatre. Although Raunaq's plays too were printed in Urdu in the Gujarati script, he claimed great concern for the Makhraj of the Urdu language. Makhraj is a term meaning both 'pronunciation' and 'etymology'.
The next generation of Urdu dramatists, who published plays in the 1880s, were different from the earlier writers in that they hailed from Uttar Pradesh and were Muslims trained in the classical languages from which Urdu developed. Karimuddin Murad was born in Bareli and was educated in Arabic and Persian, where he later taught in a local Madrasa. Amanullah Khan 'Habab' came from Fatehpur, where he was a court poet in the service of the Nawabs of Rampur and Rewan in the 1870s. He began writing plays for the Parsi theatre in 1881. Hafiz Muhammad Abdullah like Habab was from Fatehpur educated in Arabic and Persian and was a hafiz-i quran (protector of the Holy Quran, one who has the entire book by heart).
Works of Parsi Theatre in Urdu
These early plays in Urdu used a number of different narrative traditions apart from the Gujarati plays of the period. Most of them are original in the sense of being made up afresh although from familiar elements. In Sone ke molki Khurshed, Fateh Shah becomes displeased with his queen of seven years and offers her for sale at a public auction, stipulating that whoever can fill a one-cubic yard pit with gold will get her hand. The merchant Firoz arrives in the 'harbour' of Delhi and eventually wins her. Nurjahan, despite the title, is not a Mughal historical drama, but concerns a tyrant, Zalim Singh, who kidnaps two princesses who are eventually rescued by the hero Muhabat Khan. The intercession of jinns and fairies is essential to the plot. The story of Hatim, known from dastans, is about a princess who poses seven questions that must be answered by a single man. In search of the answers, Hatim encounters various supernatural forces, giving the theatre company an opportunity to display its special stage effects. Jahangir Shah involves a conflict between two imaginary kings; the memorable scenes are those of Jahangir arriving in a grotto through a tunnel and the witty repartee between the king's cook and a young woman planning an assignation with her lover. The stuff of these dramas can be said to consist of the persecution and rescue of desirable women, the magical interference of supernatural beings, and the struggles of the hero caught between the two, all familiar elements from the universe of Persian and Urdu Dastans.
The audience received this turn towards Urdu well, though newspaper reviews of this early time comment on the audience's surprise in hearing Parsi actors enunciate the words of the Urdu language. The adoption of Urdu in Parsi theatre, thus it is seen, was not merely a move to capture a larger audience. It was also largely favoured on aesthetic grounds, and the beauty and advantage of its use in poetry and song.
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