Band Members – L to R: “Mona”(Smitha Archana), “Dimple” (Swarupa E), Sitting on the ground “Mastan” (Suneel Bhattula), Band Manger “Madhur” (Sanjay Nichani), “Aman” (Sachin Chawla) (All Photos: Stephen Howell)

Hamid Daudani & Group, the only prominent Desi theater for over a quarter century in Southern California, presented their 26thannual play ‘Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum’ on April 26 to a full house at the Poway Center of Performing Arts in Poway, CA.

The play started with a beautiful dance by 22 young ladies of Nupoor Dance Academy. It related to the theme of the play and was choreographed by Shalini Chauhan, the director of the academy.

The play with twelve cast members told the story of a small Indian music band which was invited to perform in a distant village in India by a landlord. The five-member band arrived at a bus stop in the wilderness and waited for their ride into the village. After getting tired of waiting for two hours, they decide to walk to the destination some five miles away.

L to R : "Farheed" (Prasad Adusumalli), "Karishma" (Anubhuti Neb), "Amma" (Ayesha Khan), "Dimple"(Swarupa E), "Mona" (Smitha Archana)

L to R : “Farheed” (Prasad Adusumalli), “Karishma” (Anubhuti Neb), “Amma” (Ayesha Khan), “Dimple”(Swarupa E), “Mona” (Smitha Archana)

They walked the distance, but in the wrong direction. Tired and thirsty, they ended up in a small village, soon realizing that not only was it not the village they were supposed to be in, they were not even in the country they were supposed to be in. They had crossed the border and had arrived in Pakistan! They all gasped and thought “Ye kahaan aa gaye hum?”

The cast delivered very strong performances, partly due to the talent, and as much, if not more due to the months-long strict rehearsal regimen that is the hallmark of Daudani.

L to R: "Karishma" (Anubhuti Neb), "Dada" (Champ Nath)

L to R: “Karishma” (Anubhuti Neb), “Dada” (Champ Nath)

Champ Nath’s performance as Dada was dazzling, even though he was drunk. When he did come out of his drunken stupor, he delivered in spades. Champ’s performance oozed of sadness and anger – not knowing whether Dada’s son was alive or dead since he ran off to India to cause mayhem.  Dada blamed his loss on all Indians, and the Pakistani government. He wanted his revenge! And the Indian band members were the perfect target. But after having the opportunity to act on his hate, he recognized the only way he could find peace was through forgiveness.

L to R: "Amma" (Ayesha Khan), Police, "Tauba Khan" (Vijay Gurkhe), "Aman" (Sachin Chawla), "Mastan" (Suneel Bhattulla), " Dada (Champ Nath)

L to R: “Amma” (Ayesha Khan), Police, “Tauba Khan” (Vijay Gurkhe), “Aman” (Sachin Chawla), “Mastan” (Suneel Bhattulla), ” Dada (Champ Nath)

Amma was played with great relish by Ayesha Khan. With her crooked gait, expressive face and hand gestures, she truly embodied a loving mother figure of the village, who also shared Dada’s sadness, but was also angry and frustrated with his constant drinking.

Shweta Doshi was Rani, a bubbly, happy young village girl who gets wooed by a band member, Mastana, played by Suneel Battula.  Both excelled in their roles, with Suneel inhabiting a carefree musician and Romeo who loses his heart to every beautiful girl he sees. But by the end of the play, Mastana vows to come back to marry Rani, legally, with a visa.

L to R: Qawalli - "Dimple" (Swarupa E), "Aman" (Sachin Chawla), "Mona" (Smitha Archana)

L to R: Qawalli – “Dimple” (Swarupa E), “Aman” (Sachin Chawla), “Mona” (Smitha Archana)

Prasad Adusumali played Fareed Ahmed, the elderly voice of reason among the villagers. He was the one who lambasted Dada when he, although with good intentions, put everyone at risk by assaulting the Police Officer, played very officially and sternly by Vijaykumar Ghurke.

Vijay had a shorter, but pivotal role, as he was both the biggest danger to the safe return of the band members back to India, and the key factor in the scheme concocted by the brainy Dimple, who was also a band member, played by Swarupa Ellamaraju. In a very rational and logical way, Dimple laid out a plan, enlisting the help of the mild-mannered, mango-smuggling Mahmood Mian, played to a tee by Rama Rao Varigonda, and the knocked-out, drunk Police Officer to deliver the band all back across the border.

L to R: "Mehmood Mia" (Rama Rao Varigonda), "Mona" (Smitha Archana), "Rani" (Shweta Doshi), "Karishma" (Anubhuti Neb)

L to R: “Mehmood Mia” (Rama Rao Varigonda), “Mona” (Smitha Archana), “Rani” (Shweta Doshi), “Karishma” (Anubhuti Neb)

About mid-way through the play, the band members sang a few verses of poetry and performed a qawwali, which had the audience enthusiastically clapping along. The best rendition was delivered by Smita Archana, who played Mona, in a most melodious and soothing voice.

Sanjay Nichani played Madhur, the leader of the band. Madhur’s conflict with Dada was a pivotal point in the play, with Madhur offering Dada to shoot him if that would calm the fires of hatred in Dada’s heart.

Sachin Chawla as Aman was the assistant band manager who maintained peace among all the parties. Aman’s well-acted, cautious feelings towards Karishma, played by Anubhuti Neb, were both acknowledged and rebuffed in a delicately subdued manner. She confided in Aman with her unbearable grief, that Dada’s lost son Nadeem was also her husband.

L to R: "Mastan" (Suneel Bhattula), "Rani" (Shweta Doshi)

L to R: “Mastan” (Suneel Bhattula), “Rani” (Shweta Doshi)

Putting on a play of this scale is no easy feat. While the audience sees the cast, in the background, just as many volunteers spend countless hours over many months to pull everything together. Hamid Daudani, Zulfiqar Rashid and Anush Moorthi toiled over the script repeatedly, bringing the characters and words in harmony.  Atul Prasad worked tirelessly with the cast as the Assistant Director. Under the leadership of Technical Director Yogesh Sayanakar, the team painstakingly hand-built the village set over a period of four months.  Anuradha Atri served as the Production Manager, and as the Stage Manager with Yamini Patel to deliver the under 60-second scene changes and thoughtful props.  The costumes were, as always, impeccably organized by Mamta Malhotra, and the cast was even more appealing thanks to the makeup magic by Zainab Ansari.  The show would only be half as effective without the light engineering by Bharat Shah, and the sound engineering by Vipula Roy.

L to R: "Karishma" (Anubhuti Neb), "Aman" (Sachin Chawla)

L to R: “Karishma” (Anubhuti Neb), “Aman” (Sachin Chawla)

On a more somber note, this was the first play since the sad passing of Laila Daudani, Hamid’s life partner of 47 years. The entire theater was in silence, recalling the vibrant and dynamic Laila as Hamid spoke about her in a wavering voice, with heartfelt words of love and remembrance.

Daudani’s plays always have a relevant and topical message. While there was dancing, music, comedy and conflict – a total package that entertained the audience, the underlying theme was one on unity.  We are all humans and have a lot more in common than we think.

Center - Director - Hamid Daudani, Left Walking Away - Assistant Director - Atul Prasad.

Center – Director – Hamid Daudani, Left Walking Away – Assistant Director – Atul Prasad.

In Mahmood Mian’s words – you can draw a line in the sand or a map, and divide a land into countries, but how will you divide the skies, the sun and the moon?

Article by Zulfiqar Rashid