Kabuliwala Calling: Bangalore Little Theatre brings alive Tagore’s iconic short story on stage
Directed by Vijay Padaki and Murtuza Khetty, the new play kickstarts its 2023 run at Ranga Shankara today
By Reema Gowalla
Bengaluru’s oldest English theatre group, Bangalore Little Theatre (BLT), is back with one of its most popular plays, titled Kabuliwala Calling, which they say has a message for both the young and old. Written and co-directed by noted theatre personality Vijay Padaki, the piece draws inspiration from Rabindranath Tagore’s much talked-about 1892 Bengali short story, called Kabuliwala. After a whirlwind tour in 2022 — clocking nearly 30 shows and reaching out to more than 6,300 audience members — the play is all set to embark on its 2023 run with shows lined up at Ranga Shankara and Jagriti Theatre this month.
Much like Tagore’s other literary works, Kabuliwala too is a story of love and compassion that also piques your interest in the Afghan settlements in Kolkata back in the day. “Children find it exciting to see a beloved story from their school textbook come alive on stage. But more than just creating a theatrical experience for them, the narrative encourages them to think and ponder on important questions. Kabuliwala Calling is a soul-stirring and intriguing piece of art that strikes a chord with the audience even today,” says Murtuza Khetty, the play’s co-director.
Written during Tagore’s ‘sadhana’ period (from 1891 to 1895), the original short story traces the life of a Pashtun from Kabul, who used to sell dry fruits on the streets of Calcutta. During his stay in the city, he developed a paternal bond with a little girl, named Mimi, who belonged to a middle-class aristocratic family. Away from home for months, the five-year-old girl constantly reminded him of his own daughter in Kabul.
According to Murtuza, the making of Kabuliwala Calling — which is also BLT’s annual children’s theatre fundraiser production — happened in two phases, helmed by two separate teams. “The first group worked through the pandemic. This phase mostly comprised discussions and rehearsed readings on Zoom. The second leg began in November 2022, when the cast and crew of the play relied on a rather hybrid model for meetings and rehearsals. While there were in-person sessions, the online space was also used for putting the play together,” he elaborates.
The actors of the play — which runs for a duration of 1 hour and 10 minutes — include Musten Jiruwala, Vincent Fernandez, Maitreyi DT, Ranjitha S, Karan Manveer Singh Dalal, Naveen Tater, Minti Jain, Vijay Sharma, Akash Athwani, Pallavi Kiran, Jaya Pandey, Tarini Kiran, Ankith D Prabhu, Sriram Jayashankar, Pranav Verma and Aditya Kalyani.
BLT’s new stage adaptation sheds light on the ‘Kabuliwalas of Calcutta’, who lived in the capital of the Bengal Presidency for decades. Replete with historical details relating to the little-known community, the iconic story paints an intriguing image of the Afghans in Bengal. It isn’t the first time that the short story has inspired adaptations. In the past, there have been films and television series as well that were based on this literary piece.
The new play, however, is different from the films that were inspired by the short story. “Although it’s a piece primarily meant for children, Kabuliwala Calling gives out a message that even adults may find noteworthy. The play is quite relevant in this day and age too. In a subtle manner, the play addresses the ‘fear of others’ and the common notion that we build about ‘people who come from outside’,” Murtuza sums up.
Catch the play at Ranga Shankara on January 7 (at 3.30pm and 7.30pm) and at Jagriti Theatre on January 21 and 22 (at 3.30pm and 7.30pm). You can book your tickets here.