This Odd Couple
Qissago’s production Jaana Tha Roshanpura, written by Samta Sagar and directed by Virendra Saxena, has a simple premise—unusual, but also believable—and builds on it with humour and emotional empathy for the two main characters.
Ishwar Prasad (Saxena) is forced to share a home with his son-in-law Chandan (Ravi Mahashabde), because it was his daughter Panja’s (Sagar) dying wish. The two dislike each other, but loved Panja dearly. She knew that the two men would not be able to bear their grief, but would not reach out to each other for support.
Ishwar Prasad is a crotchety retired IAS officer, and Chandan is a painter. A line has been drawn in the middle of the room, and they are expected to stay on their side. The play begins on the last day of the enforced togetherness–their constant bickering and playing mean pranks, indicates just how bad the months gone by must have been.
The older man gets the better of his son-in-law in their verbal spats, because of Chandan’s inherent respect for the elderly, but he also plays a few pranks, like hiding Ishwar’s glasses, or moving his mouth wordlessly so that he thinks there is something wrong with his hearing. He also cares enough to do the cooking even when it is not his turn or running behind Ishwar with a muffler when he goes out in the cold. Both follow with equal interest the budding romance between a young couple in the building across the street. There is an age gap, but the two are quite similar in ways that must have been obvious to Panja.
Their true feelings start emerging as the deadline for Chandan’s departure nears—that is when Ishwar admits that he hated Chandan because he took away his beloved Panja, and Chandan reads out a poem she had written to her father from her sick bed, that he kept hidden till then.
There a few things that don’t ring true, like Chandan asking on the last day about Panja’s odd name, or the two sharing a drink. There is also no mention of Panja’s mother; and the two seem oddly isolated with no other family or friends.
Still, the superlative acting by Saxena and Mahashabde papers over any cracks in the text, which is otherwise written with warmth and moments of lyricism; it’s like a closely played match between the two actors, so that the flashback/dream sequence with Panja breaks the spell. This one’s worth going miles to see.