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Sisters' story



Uzra and Zohra in Aik Thee Nani

DESPITE A raging fever and a debilitating cough, actress Zohra Segal managed to pull off a great show of Aik Thee Nani. She could afford to take some liberties with the script, which is after all, a story based on her and sister Uzra Butt's lives. Through them it examines the trials of Partition.

Written by Shahid Nadeem, directed by Madeeha Gauhar, this play by the troupe Ajoka has been performed since 1993. "Shahid wrote the play after he met Zohra in the late '80s and became fascinated with the sisters' lives. It has run for 11 years now, with gaps in between," says Madeeha Gauhar. Dealing as it does with a cross-border cast, rehearsals were held mostly in Pakistan, but also in India.

Uzra Butt has been with Ajoka for many years, but it was for the first time that Madeeha was directing the legendary Zohra Segal. "I was awestruck in the beginning," Madeeha remembers. "But she was very cooperative and believes that the director always has the last word. It was a fascinating experience."

What role does a director have in a play written for, centred around and played by its own stellar cast? "Well, it's only a semi autobiographical account," explains Madeeha. "Apart from bringing the sisters together, it tackles contemporary problems and the choices that an actor has to make. This is of major concern to me. The day-to-day problems of working in a conservative society is also of great interest to me."

The play's staging in Bangalore did prove that Zohra's age (she is 93) was beginning to work against her. "It's becoming difficult for her physically; while walking... and to keep balance, but sheer will power keeps her going," says Madeeha.

At the Prithvi festival earlier this month, the sisters, who were the leading ladies of Prithviraj Kapoor's Prithvi Theatres, performed again on the same stage that launched them — undoubtedly an emotional experience for both audience and actors.

H.G.

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