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Mumtaz Siddiqui, Pankaj Kapur and a Dopehri

Dopehri by Pankaj Kapur
A dopehri in the streets of old Lucknow

As soon as I entered the Kamani auditorium, I was intrigued by the set up on the stage. It was all set and a curious audience was waiting for the showman of the day, Pankaj Kapur. Kapur has made a comeback on the stage almost after 18 years with Dopehri to take the audience into a different world with him.

The auditorium lights went dim and there entered Kapur from the right side of the stage. He lights a lamp and start reading from a book in his hand. Within no time, the entire auditorium was transported into the world of Amma Bi in Lucknow.

Pankaj Kapur starts reading
Pankaj Kapur starts reading

A novella written by Pankaj Kapur, Dopehri is a story of an old woman living alone in her haveli and how she discovers herself with the help of people around her and emerges as Mumtaz Siddiqui. Amma Bi’s son and daughter-in-law live abroad and come to meet every few years but the loneliness has started daunting her. It was getting difficult for her to spend time, though she has a help ‘Jumman’. Jumman is also a very important character of the novella. He lives with Amma Bi for most of his time.

Amma Bi is a character made of Kapur's own imagination
Amma Bi is a character made of Kapur’s own imagination

Kapur’s reading was convincing enough to allow the audiences visualise the entire scene in front of their eyes. With the exact Lakhnawi dialect and subtle body movements, it was an impeccable show put together with the help of coordinating lights and music. The act was co-produced by Supriya Pathak Kapur, who also played a vital role at the backstage.

With a set that is fuss-free, Kapur enthralled the audiences with his voice
With a set that is fuss-free, Kapur enthralled the audiences with his voice

The stage was divided into three parts: a study table with a vintage chair; a rocking chair and a balcony. Kapur calls this act a dramatised reading and recalls how difficult it was for him to convince theatre owners in Mumbai to let him stage it 20 years back.

The act was originally scheduled for 7 pm on February 5 during the ongoing Bharat Rang Mahotsav 2016. But due to high demand, the National School of Drama had to arrange for an additional show at 3:30 pm the same day.


Text and images by Supriya Aggarwal