Zeenat Aman Brings Kasturba Gandhi To Life

The story sprawls continents from Durban where the Mahatma rose to Porbandar, across six decades, a tale of power behind the legacy that is Gandhi.

THEATRE: The last time Zeenat Aman performed on stage was in 2004. She characterized the role of Mrs Robinson, an older woman who sleeps with Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate.

Now the veteran actor returns to the stage after 15 years with the play ‘Dearest Bapu, Love Kasturba’. The show will travel to six other cities and will play again in Mumbai on 22 March.

The play, starring Arif Zakaria as Gandhi and Aman as Kasturba, premiered on Friday as part of The Great Indian Theatre Festival. It is directed by Saif Hayder Hasan. The play opens with the drama of the Quit India movement. Gandhi is arrested and sent to the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. Kasturba leads in his absence.

Hasan conceptualized the stage show featuring three wives—Kasturba, Kamala Nehru and Umrao Begum, Mirza’s Ghalib’s wife — before narrowing it down to Kasturba. He wrote it as a solo performance and approached Aman, who was initially daunted. “For somebody who hadn’t done theatre in so long, to see such a thick script… I went, ‘oh my’. But it was a great opportunity because cinematically I have had a very different image.” Hasan reworked it as a two-person play and cast Zakaria. It unfolds as a dialogue between the couple, with Kasturba’s spirit writing letters to her husband.

Zeenat Aman as Kasturba Gandhi
Image Source: Film Companion

There are some interesting moments when Kasturba confronts Gandhi’s visit to the brothel when married to him, and his sexual experiments being part of the freedom struggle.

PRATHYUSH PARASURAMAN, Film Companion

Aman said Kasturba played a pivotal role in Gandhi’s life and followed her husband in his every endeavour despite having reservations about some of his decisions. Aman believes Kasturba Gandhi was a woman of great integrity but her contribution has not been given due importance.

There’s a beautiful moment in the play, Dearest Bapu, Love Kasturba when Kasturba reads out a letter her spirit has written from beyond the grave. It is about the time she was released from prison in the early 1940s while Gandhi was still shackled. She says, “What do I do of freedom if it is to be had without you?” 

PRATHYUSH PARASURAMAN, Film Companion

“Kasturba has been ignored for the longest time. She walked with him, a lot of his power was drawn from her, she was the inspiration for a lot of practices he imbibed and used nationally, which became international and is still alive and resonating even today. He said he learnt the concept of Satyagraha from her,” Aman told PTI in an interview here.

Aman said she doesn’t know anyone in her life who could do what Kasturba did in her lifetime.

“She was a woman of great integrity, she stood by what she believed in and followed through on it. I don’t know many women like Kasturba Gandhi, who follow their husband’s footsteps for the country,” she said.

The veteran actor said she had little knowledge about Kasturba before she signed on for the play and she relied completely on her director to develop her performance.

“I am a director’s actor, my performance will vary according to the director. At the helm of every production is a director. My director had clarity in what he wanted to do like he was clear this is a love story. I followed him.”

The set-up, while visually striking, confounds: The whole play, Kasturba and Gandhi are on opposite sides of the stage, each on an elevated platform, Kasturba writing/reading her letters, interspersed with Gandhi writing/reading her letters. Within the first 10 minutes, it stops sounding like a letter-exchange, and more like a conversation with Gandhi and Kasturba replying with immediacy, something letters don’t allow. The epistolary conceit fades, coming to life only when Kasturba ends her letters with “Love Kasturba”.

Her co-actor Arif said one wouldn’t know much about Kasturba as much as they know about Gandhi as he has been relevant for years.

“For the first time, we are bringing his human side, the husband side and how he reacted to Kasturba and how Kasturba responded to him. We bring those elements out that people knew but didn’t know how to interpret it.”

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