Theatre is a strong medium for conveying some social message. The main reason is that the response to a performance is immediate and if it is good it leaves an imprint on the minds of the audience. Recently a classical humorous play ‘Begum Jaan’ was staged at the Lahore University of Management Sciences by the Gurmani Centre for Language and Literature at LUMS in collaboration with LUMS Community Service Society. The play was perfect example of a sugar coated pill for creating awareness about women empowerment and some other social issues.

The main characters were played by three students. Lyla Qureshi acted as Begum Jaan in the play. Mashal Walji played Zareena the grand daughter of Begum Jaan and Shariq played the role of Sanjay the ambitious journalist.  Begum Jaan is an Indian classical play written by Javed Siddiqui. Begum Jaan is an eighty-year-old woman living in a house in Jaipur with her grand daughter Zareena. Begum Jaan is a vivid colourful woman lost in nostalgia about her past. In the 1940s and 1950s she was a star, a popular singer, a courtesan but now she lives in poverty. When she was young she used to be a great charmer who had casual relationship with many historical figures such as Zafarullah Khan and many others.

At one time she was also close to the likes of Majaaz, Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, but now she lived in oblivion treasuring the memories of her past. These memories are preserved not only in her alert mind but also in the form of several letters written to her by none other than Maulana Azad that she kept inside a Kashmiri lacquered wooden box, which she guards all the time. The play has a strong plot and a vast canvas: from the dying legacy of classical music and traditional values to Begum Jaan’s personal life. However, the play is at times a tad slow in its pace but still does not lose the interest of the audience.

Begum Jaan has a compelling story, written by Javed Siddiqi, one of the finest writers in Mumbai. Living with the old woman is her young grand daughter Zareena, Mashal has played the role brilliantly. She endears herself to the audience with her smart quips and her charm and talent.

Zareena is a simple innocent girl, she doesn’t have parents. She dreams all the time. She falls in love with Sanjay, who leaves her in the end.

Sanjay is a young journalist cum biographer. He is keenly interested in the life story of Begum Jaan. He presents the heartlessness of the media's fetish for information and scandals. He wants to exposé the relationship of Begum Jaan and Maulana Azad. He asks Begum Jaan to show him the letters that Maulana Azad had written to her but she refuses. Sanjay is an over ambitious journalist who wants to unfold the mystery of Begum Jaan’s relationship with Maulana Azad and become famous by breaking the story. Begum Jaan passes away without revealing the secret or showing the letters to Sanjay, who breaks his relationship with Zareena for good. Zareena too leaves taking along with her the letters of Maulana Azad. The secret of the letters remains a secret. What was the content of those letters remains a mystery. 

The same team earlier presented this play in Karachi. The set and props used in the play were minimum but enough to give the real life look. Lights and sound system were good. Lyla Qureshi deserves praise for her wonderful performance. Her dialogue delivery presenting the dialect of Jaipur was remarkable. Mashal Walji also shone in acting as the young girl – a dreamer and someone in love. The play received a standing ovation from the audience. The play message of women empowerment would go a long way as could be seen from the interest of audience. There are times when we end up taking a wrong decision and it looks as if the life would end there and then. But that is not the case life goes on. Begum Jaan passes away but her grand daughter carries on keeping her secret safe from any scandal. The play also gives the message that we must set our priorities in life and work hard to ensure that nothing goes wrong.