Zeenat Aman Returns on Stage as Kasturba Gandhi at The Great Indian Theatre Festival

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The Great Indian Theatre Festival, which began this Friday at National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) with the play Dearest Bapu, Love Kasturba marked the return of Bollywood actress, Zeenat Aman on the stage after a hiatus of 16 years.

Much has changed since the last time she performed on stage in 2004. For starter, the role she played back then was that of Mrs Robinson, in the play The Graduate. As Mrs Robinson, the older woman who draws the young Benjamin Braddock into a clandestine sexual relationship with her wiles Aman wasn't far removed from the personas of glamorous women she had often played onscreen. However, this time around, with barely any make-up on her face, she rendered grace and gravitas to an ageing Kasturba Gandhi onstage.

Dearest Bapu, Love Kasturba an epistolary play, directed by Saif Hyder Hasan and performed by Arif Zakaria as Mahatma Gandhi, and Aman as Kasturba is a delightful experiment in style and form. Gandhi's life has been chronicled in such detail throughout the years, that there is hardly anything new or interesting to learn about.

Even the most intimate and often controversial events of his life are public knowledge-- Be it his radical sexual experiments, and the subsequent vow of celibacy, or his journey from violence to non-violence. But, what keeps the play from getting boring is the template Hasan uses. He breaks down different significant episodes of Mahatma's life and takes us back to each of the well-known moments -- his forced disembarkment from the train, his father's death as he had intercourse with his pregnant wife, his childhood and the early marriage, his participation in the freedom movement -- through his wife, Kasturba's point of view.

There isn't much action on stage, as Aman sits on a chair and reads the letters written by Kasturba, and Zakaria sits on the dais floor imitating Bapu's mannerism to perfection and reading his letters. But, flashbacks come to interject the monotony, with AVs of real events playing in the background and a touching music score completes the play. It begins with Gandhi's assassination, and circles back to the same event chronicling in between some of the most painful times in his personal life -- his son Harilal's straying ways, his struggle to cope with his father's death, and Kasturba's failing health and her subsequent death.

The Great Indian Theatre Festival, produced by BookMyShow, which premiered in Mumbai with this play on February 21, is aimed at celebrating art, culture, storytelling and most importantly, Indian theatre. It is scheduled to show over 50 plays that will be performed across 25 plus cities in India. Dearest Bapu, Love Kasturba, after its Mumbai debut, is slated to travel to Hyderabad, Delhi, Bengaluru, Vadodara, Chennai and Kolkata.

This festival is as much for theatre enthusiasts as it is for first-timers and will feature many well-known actors of Indian cinema such as Shabana Azmi, Kumud Mishra, Rajat Kapoor, Vinay Pathak, Rakesh Bedi, Shikha Talsania, Mandira Bedi, Samir Soni, Jim Sarbh, Ranvir Shorey, Neil Bhoopalam, Lillete Dubey, Kitu Gidwani, Sandhya Mridul, Suchitra Pillai, Cyrus Sahukar, Aadar Malik, Saurabh Shukla, Achint Kaur, Ira Dubey, Aahana Kumra, Shweta Tiwari, Sayantani Ghosh, Minissha Lamba, Rohit Roy amongst others.

This 5 month-long festival will travel to several cities including Jaipur, Pune, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Guwahati, Indore, Bhopal, Surat, Bhubaneswar, Goa and Kochi.

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