Art & Entertainment

The Making Of A Play About Patna: From Memory, Love And Childhood Heroes

Nihal Parashar says ‘Patna Ka Superhero’ is largely a set of personal reflections on people he came across during his childhood, in school and on the streets of Patna

The Making Of A Play About Patna: From Memory, Love And Childhood Heroes
info_icon

I am a fan of R.K. Narayan’s writing. I simply love how he created a world around Malgudi. This inspired me as a young reader. The fact that a writer created all his characters in and around one fictional city blew my mind when I started reading Narayan seriously in class 7 or 8. This stayed with me for the longest time.

Later, when I started writing, I did not realise that Patna was my Malgudi. The stories I wrote were primarily set in and around Patna. I
recently completed a detective novel set around Patna. My play ‘Patna Ka Superhero’ is also set in the same city as is obvious from the name of the play.

Because I was always away from Patna, it never occurred to me to create a fictional city. Patna was a distant land for me; a city of nostalgia. People who have lived all their lives in the city may have a different view of it. For me, it is the city of my childhood and teenage years.

I left Patna after completing class 12. It was the only city I knew adequately. For some reason, I needed to know the addresses of the characters I was writing. Patna became the city where everything happened when I started writing short stories in college.

It has continued.

‘Patna Ka Superhero’, the play:

Patna Ka Superhero’ is largely a set of personal reflections on people I came across during my childhood, in school and on the streets of Patna. This story has always been with me, in some or the other form. I was never sure how to express it. It could have been a film script, a short story or even a novel.

Sharing the story on stage, through the medium of theatre, however, was an organic choice.

The play starts in the mid-2000s. We witness the small-town shenanigans through narrator Manoj, a class 9 student, who wants to be a part of Pintu bhaiya’s gang. Pintu bhaiya is a local legend who lives in the Shivpuri area of Patna, while Manoj lives in Punaichak Colony. For Manoj, there have been only three revolutionaries worth emulating: Bhagat Singh, Karl Marx and Pintu bhaiya. Manoj is fascinated by the fact that the mere presence of Pintu bhaiya is enough for any ‘gang war’ to end. Pintu bhaiya is the ‘OG’ of Patna!

info_icon
Patna On Stage Properties from the play Photo: Padmaja

Through a series of events, Manoj is able to become friends with Pintu bhaiya. Manoj has always wanted this. Over the next three years, Manoj becomes a crucial part of Pintu bhaiya’s love life. Pintu bhaiya falls in love with Swati Sinha, a class 11 student from St. Joseph’s Convent. Though Pintu bhaiya has never spoken to Swati, she becomes the most important part of his and Manoj’s life. We get to know the caste identities of the characters. We get to know what love means to Swati. Pintu bhaiya goes missing. Manoj moves to Delhi, like
numerous other Patna boys.

It is only after 15 years that we get to know what happened in the summer of 2008. And also what happened after that. Patna is an
important character in this story. But the story might have been of any small city. It is about displaced identities. It is about what happens to the people we worshipped in our childhoods. Superheroes do not wear capes all the time. We meet our superheroes in different phases of life. Pintu bhaiya was that superhero for Manoj. The play is 1 hour and 20 minutes long. It is designed in a way that all the characters are played by one actor. It is a solo play.

Making the Play

Any play, even if it is a solo act, is a collaborative effort. Solo plays require a different kind of approach than an ensemble cast performance. The play was mine only till I wrote it. On stage, it is also an interpretation of Ghanshyam Lalsa, who performs it with ease.

In April 2022, I saw a play in Delhi called ‘Upar Wala Kamra’. It too was a solo play performed by a wonderful actor named Anoop Singh. He not only wrote the play but also performed it. The ‘Patna Ka Superhero’ idea had been with me for some time, perhaps a few years. Anoop’s performance in ‘Upar Wala Kamra’ inspired me to give a structure to my story.

info_icon
Cast and crew in the rehearsal room Photo: Padmaja

It took me only three-four days to write the ent­ire script. I was surprised to find that I rememb­e­red things so vividly about Patna and my child­hood. While the characters were fictional, the incidents were very real, things I’d seen in Pat­na and other parts of Bihar. It was a pleasant surprise.

After writing the first draft, I wanted my frie­nds to read it. I was ready to narrate it to people who are not very fond of reading. I started sending the PDF file to my close frie­nds on Whats­App. Among others, I also sent it to Ghanshyam Lalsa, a compelling actor and senior theatre practitioner. He instantly cal­led me and said that he loved the play. He liked it so much that he forwarded it to Kumud Mis­hra, one of the finest actors in our country, a very close friend of ours, and founder of the theatre group ‘D For Drama’. Because I adore him so much, I was too shy to send the play to Mishra myself. But Ghanshyam sent it anyway.

Advertisement

It took me only three-four days to write the entire script. I was surprised when I was writing it. I did not know I remembered things so vividly about Patna and my childhood.

The same evening Kumud ji called me and shared his views on the play. He suggested a few changes and asked if he might produce the play. It was very special for me. I consider Kumud ji God when it comes to theatre. The idea that ‘D For Drama’ would produce the play was an honour. I also knew the person I wanted to direct it. I share a good understanding with Ghanshyam. I wanted him to be the ‘Patna Ka Superhero’. Luckily, he was very keen on the idea as well.

Advertisement

The first team was created. As a young theatre enthusiast, I was being supported by two very generous veterans in the theatre. We started the reading of the play in June 2022. Within a month, we had our full team: Prerana and Mithil as assistant directors, Kuldeep Kushwaha (sound and lights), Sumit Raj Yadav (production), Dhiraj (production) and Kunal Sharma (light designer) helped in various other departments.

info_icon
At Prithvi Theatre The poster of the play Photo: Padmaja

The people around us always inspire us in creative ways. The ‘D For Drama’ theatre group has the guidance of people who have spent decades on stage. Their guidance helped me shape the play.

Advertisement

I wanted to have original music for the play. I discussed the idea with my closest friend, Harp­reet, a wonderful independent musician. He jumped at the idea and created a beautiful sou­ndtrack. He went beyond what I had asked him and also created a theme song for the play, probably one of the finest tracks created by Harpreet.

I was blessed to have such wonderful people around me who guided me at each step.

Then came August 25, 2022. The play opened at the prestigious Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai. We had two houseful shows. It was my first play at Prithvi. It could not have been designed better. I have only gratitude for the people who made it possible.

Advertisement

The World that Remains

Patna has remained with me ever since I left it. I guess this is true for so many people who leave their homes in search of better places. I am still trying to understand why Patna features in all my stories. For some, it can be a simple answer. But for me, it is complex.
Patna is a world that has remained in my mind. When I say Patna, I do not mean geography. I mean a particular time period; I mean people; I mean emotion.

I do wonder what Narayan was creating when he made Malgudi the geographical location of his stories. The characters he wrote were universal. Yet he chose one specific geographical locale for the stories. As a writer, it fascinates me how being truthful is fundamental to writing fiction, which is essentially a series of lies. Somebody told me years ago to be truthful in writing. I am still processing that.

Advertisement

Narayan was truthful. Despite his geography being limited to Malgudi, he wrote characters who were timeless and much beyond the narrow lanes of the imaginary village where the stories unfolded. In fiction, it seems to me, words are the least important. It is essentially a transaction of empathy. That’s what I have understood as a student of literature while reading my favourite writers.

I can be wrong. I have allowed myself to be wrong.

While creating this play, I came a bit closer home. Patna became something I can now see on stage.

(This appeared in the print edition as "A Patna Of The Mind")

Advertisement

Nihal Parashar is a writer and actor based in Mumbai

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement