Pankaj Kapur's 'Dopehri' is about rediscovering oneself

Pankaj Kapur's 'Dopehri' is about rediscovering oneself

The one-man show tells the story of an old widow in Lucknow. It is based on the actor’s novella of the same name

Last year, actor Pankaj Kapur released his debut novella, ‘Dopehri’. The story follows Amma Bi, an elderly widow who lives alone in her deserted Lucknow haveli. With a son and family who live abroad, the only company in her lonesome life are Jumman, her household help, and Mr Saxena, a neighbour. Every afternoon, at precisely 3 o’clock, she hears the sound of unknown footsteps. In a state of panic, she considers moving to an old age home. However, things take a turn when she takes on a lodger - a young woman named Sabiha. While they don’t start off a great note, they bond quite quickly. Her arrival fills Amma Bi’s lonely world with love and laughter.

Before the book was released, he had taken it to the stage, where he would perform dramatised reading of it. A staging of the reading took place on February 6 at the Chowdiah Memorial Hall. 

The reading takes place on a rather bare stage. The only props are a bare tree with a kite stuck on it, a rocking chair with a stand holding a few clothes, a table with a few knick knacks and the railings of a balcony.

Kapur moves from one prop to another based on the setting of the story. He has an evocative voice, that quite instantly captures your attention. The narrative is simple and soulful, eliciting laughter at various occasions. While Amma Bi is the protagonist of the story, it is her household help who becomes an instant favourite with his simple ways. 

However, it can take some patience to sit through almost an hour of a reading. I was instantly taken back to my school days where I would listen to my Hindi teacher monotonously read out a story. To cut the monotony, Kapur introduces accents and modulations for a few dialogue, but they were far and few.

While the story was captivating, if you are not a native speaker of the language, following the plotline can feel a little difficult. Despite having learnt Hindi all my life, I found myself losing the thread at several moments. However, the charades of Jumman kept drawing me back. 

I found a few loopholes in the story, the biggest one being the bond between Amma Bi and Sabiha. While they form a kind of mother-daughter relationship, it feels rather forced. While Amma Bi was looking so desperately for a kindred spirit, there seems to be no reasoning as to why Sabiha feels connected to Amma Bi. However, ultimately it is Sabiha who helps Amma rediscover her lost identity, that of Mumtaz Siddique — the woman she was before she got married.

I probably would have enjoyed the story of ‘Dopehri’ as a novella, because even with its faults it is humorous and powerful. It eloquently captures the silenced trauma of women who lose themselves after marriage. 

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