Partap Sharma: playwright, author, actor, director and commentator

A Touch of Brightness - a play by Partap Sharma

A Touch of Brightness (1968) centres around Rukimini, a girl sold to a brothel in Mumbai and her relationship with Pidku, a street urchin, who tries desperately to rescue her from her life as a prostitute. Rukimini mesmerises Pidku with her visionary stories of the gods and her dreams of a married life. Even in a brothel, her extravagant optimism never ceases but only deepens.

A Touch of Brightness (play)

Partap Sharma was just 24 when he wrote this play. He explained that he wrote the play to caution a young "high-society" woman of his acquaintance about the dangers of letting herself slide into the lowest part of the spectrum of existence. It was selected in 1965 by a committee of eminent British producers and critics for presentation at the First Commonwealth Arts Festival in London. Unfortunately, an indignant campaign by a few persons in Bombay led to the play being banned in Mumbai (Bombay) because it dealt with the City's infamous 'red-light' district and 'with subjects which should not be depicted on stage'. This resulted in the passports of the troupe of actors of the Indian National Theatre being impounded. Nevertheless, on 5th March 1967, the play was produced by the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre in London.

Partap gratefully recalls how certain lawyers in India volunteered their services as he could not afford legal battles, "It took Soli Sorabjee (later India's Attorney-General) and Iqbal Chagla, assisted by the solicitor Jehangir Gagrat, seven years to have the ban overthrown by the Mumbai High Court."

In 1972, the Bombay High Court decreed that the censoring authority had 'exceeded its jurisdiction' and the ban in India was revoked.

"Court orders withdrawal of ban on play. Mr. Justice Mody observed that there was nothing obscene or indecent in the script of the play." The Times of India

It is gratifying to note that forty years on it was selected by Sahitya Akademi (India's National Academy of Letters) to launch a series of contemporary plays by Indian writers in English.

Sharma explains: "A dramatic work based on recognizable social reality is often harder to take than the social reality by itself; it does more than present a casual point of view, it communicates an experience of concentrated intensity."

The Welsh dramatist and actor Emlyn Williams, CBE spoke of the play as having the "vision of Zola and the depth of feeling of Gorky." It has been studied at various universities (including one or two in India) and produced on stage and published abroad. Eventually, it was again produced by the Indian National Theatre in Mumbai in 1973. Since then it has also been produced in a number of countries, including USA, UK, Denmark, and France.

Like many truly creative people, Sharma has never been overly protective of his work, believing that creative work must enlarge awareness. In the playwright's note (2006 edition), he relates an incident that took place in 1999, in New York, when the play had its third U.S production. Partap Sharma was present for the opening night performance and when invited to say a few words to the audience, he found himself saying:

"For years, because of the troubles surrounding it, this play has become something of a cross that I carried. Tonight my cross has sprouted wings in a resurrection of the spirit. Thank you."

It was then a member of the audience suddenly called out: "I have a question for the playwright. How come your play has the same story as the film Salaam Bombay?"

"Ah," replied Sharma, "Isn't that interesting? Perhaps you can answer that yourself. Here are the mathematics of the matter. I wrote the play in 1964, it was first produced in 1965 and published by Grove Press, New York, in 1968. The film was made in or around 1988, nearly a quarter century after the play was written. You work that out and tell me who might have influenced whom."

Dealing with a controversial issue, 'A Touch of Brightness' has become a subject of academic study in universities in India and abroad. The play has also been produced and published in at least five countries in various languages. It was broadcast for the first time over radio by the BBC on 3 November 1967, with a cast that included Judi Dench (as Prema/Rukmini), and music specially composed for it by the famous sitar player, Pandit Ravi Shankar. It was rebroadcast on BBC 7 in 2007.

Well known literary critic Walter Allen wrote of this play when it was first broadcast that it was "the most imaginatively satisfying" experience in his recent listening.
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"Playwright stirs furore in Bombay. His realistic drama stirs opposition of officials. Hottest topic in Bombay's intellectual circles." - The New York Times.

"Beautiful play from India. A play not to be missed. Bombay's loss, our gain, for this is an extraordinarily beautiful and moving piece of work and its quality springs chiefly from a contrast of light and that same dark side of human activity which caused it to be banned." - The Times, London.

" a direct statement of faith in words which speak out." - Stage and Television Today, London.

" a play of strange, disturbing beauty." - The Listener, London.

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