Finding love letters written to Begum Jaan


LAHORE: he love letters written by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad to Begum Jaan, a classical singer, remain unseen. Bringing tales of a mysterious past alive, students of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) staged a 90-minute play titled Begum Jaan at the Alhamra Arts Council. Penned by renowned Indian writer Javed Siddiqui, who has scripted Bollywood films, such as Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Baazigar, the play spanned over three days, concluding on May 6.

The play was directed by LUMS student Shariq Yousaf Thara, who also played the part of Sanjay Pandey, a journalist, who attempts to get hold of the letters Azad wrote to Jaan when she was young and famous. Lyla Qureshi played the role of Jaan and Mashal Walji portrayed the character of her granddaughter, Zarina.

The tragicomedy depicted Jaan as an 80-year-old woman living in a house in Jaipur with Zareena. Her detachment from the outside world is deliberate as she’s tired of facing everyone. Despite her social isolation, she’s shown succumbing to societal pressures, as is evident in her constant rumination over when Zareena will get married.

LUMS students portrayed the set in an artistic way, showing a glimpse of the quaint haveli that the singer resided in – decorated with a host of musical instruments. The dialogues point at how Jaan’s early days brimmed with fame and that she was popular among the Nawabs and political figures.

During her singing career, she allegedly had casual relationships with dignitaries, such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Zafarullah Khan, and poets Majaz and Faiz. She’s also known to have had an affair with Azad, one of the most prominent freedom fighters in pre-partition India. However, the love letters remain a myth till the end of the play as they’re a secret only known to Jaan. Noorul Ain Bilal, the play’s production coordinator, revealed, “This is totally a fictitious tale and has no link with reality.”

Pandey approaches Jaan to stay in her house as a tenant and that’s where the plot takes off. He’s an ambitious and witty young man, who is aware of Jaan’s past. He hopes to get access to the love letters that were once exchanged between Jaan and Azad, who according to the singer, was in love with her and showered her with gifts. His hopes of unveiling the love story and becoming famous are dashed down with the sudden demise of Jaan. A turning point in the play is when his intentions are exposed to Zareena.

The play has been showcased at Alhamra for the second time. “We tried to entertain the audience through this play and the purpose of performing it at Alhamra was to showcase it as a classic piece of art,” said Thara. The play received applause from the audience.

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