69 yrs later, bid on Nilambur Ayisha’s life back on stage

The Attempt  on the life of a 16-year-old Nilambur Ayisha, on stage in 1953, has been (was then) recorded as the most apparent attack against art by religious zealots in Kerala. 

Published: 19th May 2022 09:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th May 2022 09:39 AM   |  A+A-

Poster from the play. ( File Photo )

Poster from the play. ( File Photo )

Express News Service

KOZHIKODE:  The Attempt on the life of a 16-year-old Nilambur Ayisha, on stage in 1953, has been (was then) recorded as the most apparent attack against art by religious zealots in Kerala. The reason? Ayisha was the first Muslim woman who dared to act in a play. That shooting incident happened at Melakkam in Manjeri. Sixty-nine years on, even as fundamentalist sections attempt to stifle progressive voices, a reloaded version of the play Ejj Nalloru Manusanakan Nokk (You try to be a good human being), which had ushered in a renaissance wave among the Muslim community -- is set to be staged in Nilambur on Thursday and Friday.

Director Rafeeq Mangalasseri has revised the play — penned by E K Ayamu — by incorporating incidents from the modern times. “The two-hour play, under the Ayamu Memorial Trust, starts with the shooting attempt against Ayisha. The play depicts how the same forces that aimed at Ayisha 69 years ago continue to be active and are doing the same reprehensible act of stifling progress, especially against women,” says Mangalasseri. 

The play also mentions the recent incident of a girl being humiliated on stage by a religious leader. While gun-toting zealots stood against change in 1953, the reworked play attempts to portray the possibility of regressive forces now resorting to a bomb explosion. 

Drama’s new version features 6 women, 7 girls

“The play has the characters of Ayamu and the then Communist leader and legislator K Kunhali coming on stage and challenging the religious fanatics by saying that they had successfully resisted such forces in the past and that the fanatics cannot prevent the people marching ahead even now,” the director points out.
Symbolising change, the new version features six women and seven girls compared to a lone woman in the 1953 play. While a single woman enacted the drama in 1953, six women and seven girls will be seen this time.

Shot from air gun
Recalling the shooting incident, Nilambur Ayisha, now 85, told TNIE that she was lucky to escape the bullet as she moved away from its path while delivering dialogues. “It might have been the seventh or eighth staging of Ejj Nalloru Manusanakan Nokk. That shot was fired from an air gun and the bullet hit the stage. But the play continued without a break,” she reminisces. The struggle of those days are unimaginable now, she says. “We were almost running from one stage to another on foot, with harmonium on the head and shouting inquilab. There was no payment but death threats. We were welcomed only by the communists,” she recalls. 

The play spoke about the plight of Muslim lives trapped under religious doctrines and social customs, while shedding light on the farmers’ struggle against feudalism. Besides Ayamu, Ayisha’s brother Manu Muhammed, Dr M Usman and S A Jameel were the artists behind the play that was staged more than 1,000 times across the state, and in cities outside the state.


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