Drama workshop by Awishkar

One of Mumbai’s best theatre institutions, Awishkar, is calling for applications to their theatre training workshop. With Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Arun Kakade at the helm, Awishkar has always carved a niche for original, experimental Marathi theatre.

The workshop will be conducted by Deepak Rajadhyaksha; age group: 18 to 40; workshop begins from October 12; last date for application:

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Celebrating 20 years of Rage Productions with a look back…

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Boman Irani and the late Sudhir Joshi in I’m Not Bajirao

This week, Rage Productions kicks off its 20th anniversary celebrations with The Bureaucrat. I have missed watching the play (even though it has completed 25 shows already) but I intend to catch it this time. In the meanwhile, here’s the unedited version of an interview I did with Rajit Kapur, Rahul Dacunha and Shernaz Patel as they celebrated 15 years of Rage with a festival of plays in 2009.

Rage started off with seven co-conspirators. What happened to the rest?

Rahul: We shot them…we took a gun and shot them… (all three laugh)

Rajit: You used the word conspirator so that’s what gave him the idea. Anything you give him a lead to and he’ll have an answer… It also depends on each person’s priorities over different periods in life, certain things take priority over something else and in our case somehow everything worked…

Shernaz: I think what Rajju is saying is right it’s not that those who are not part of Rage don’t love theatre or we love it more. But the fact is that all three of us really cannot survive without theatre. Life would be incomplete without theatre; it would not be worth living. Theatre is such an integral part of our basic existence and that holds true for all three of us.

Rahul: Also, it’s not fun doing theatre without each other…

Shernaz: Yes I think because we have each other as sound boards…

Rajit: …as sound boards and we need those healthy discussions, healthy arguments to get the best out of the three of us, out of the group. And theatre is also like any other sport. It’s a team game as much as hockey or cricket, it’s not like you are playing badminton, or chess.

Rahul: Also the great thing about the long run is that you start to evolve. You start off doing a certain kind of play then you move to doing a more Indian kind of play. Then you move to a more teaching format where you do workshops. And there, a team becomes important because it’s not a question of not being able to do it on your own it’s about how a collective works. On your own you’re not able to evolve the same way in theatre. Individually you might be able to evolve as actress, actor, playwright or teacher but when you’re coming together because of your love for theatre that you are pulling in different direction and the same direction…

Sh: And it’s also because each of us have our own strengths. We bring those strengths.

What do you think are Rahul’s or Rajit’s strengths?

Sh: No, no, they have no strength (another round of laughter)

Rj: Basically what is at the bottom of this is the essential sense of trust and I think that it’s very integral to any kind of partnership. In our case, we trust each other’s instincts so much that the trust is actually reliance on each other. When we’re working we know where the other is coming from. So there is an integral foundation of trust that is so strong…

Sh: Also, what’s great about having three people is that it’s not that our other lives have stopped. We’re all doing very different things beyond this but because it’s three our theatre has never had to suffer…If Rajju is on a shoot then I’m there or the way round…

Rj: The show still goes on…

Ra: Another thing that it is important is that doing theatre anywhere in the world especially in Bombay is very difficult. And whoever does it, it doesn’t get easier. There’s not enough money, or there’s not enough venues. Actors and actresses are tempted by cinema. So we’re always challenged. This is what excites us. It is that feeling that we’re able to do this in spite of the odds. We’re able to still get so many actors to work with us. We are able to produce so much work without compromising. We’ve never run a play saying to ourselves we’re doing this play because we need the money. We’ve followed our hearts and our instincts and that’s important especially in a tough business like theatre.

Love Letters is one of Rage Production’s longest running plays. What significance does it hold for you?

Sh: It’s importantly to clarify that it’s not originally our production, it’s a Hosi Vasunia Production and we then took over…

Rj: In fact I would say that partly Love Letters has been the inspiration to form Rage. When we were working on this play we started having discussions about forming our own production. I would give the credit to Love Letters to bring the three of us together.

Ra: What keeps the play going is their dashing good looks!

Rj: (wide grin) It is also the script that has an evergreen quality to it you know. It doesn’t rust away. It’s the beauty of the small things that become the most important and meaningful things in your life. From a personal point of view, as an actor I would say that it is one of the most wonderful experiments I’ve ever done in my life.

Ra: As a director, after so many shows, I’m only the plastic surgeon, making these guys look young! (Rajit rolls over laughing)

Has it been a conscious decision to concentrate on Indian-English plays?

Sh: Not really.

Ra: Certainly! For me Indian is very important and I will not do a foreign play…

Sh: No I’m not saying that it’s not important. I’m saying it wasn’t a conscious decision, where we decided that from now on we’re not going to do such plays. On that front we really evolved wonderfully and it came from (I’m not) Bajirao. When we did Bajirao, honestly we didn’t think it would be this humongous success. We really saw it as a small, little play that will happen at Prithvi (Theatre) and that’s it…

Rj: We never expected such success. It ran for nine years.

Sh: And that I think that’s what got us thinking as to why is the play working. Of course our actors were brilliant but it’s also because people were listening to our own voices.

Ra: It became “our” English. It wasn’t firang English.

Sh: So that became the turning point and then one thing led to another. So it was just one of those things that evolved. It’s not like we sat down and set goals for ourselves.

Ra: The other thing is that Bajirao is an adaptation of (I’m not) Rappaport. Now the argument is that both plays are about old age. But I’m not convinced that Rappaport would’ve had a nine-year run. It’s about “our” version of old age. In the West they’re sent to an old age home, over here we don’t do that. It’s about the way we treat our old we look after them in our joint family. Those emotions don’t work unless they’re set here.

Sh: I don’t agree and that’s our eternal argument. I think Love Letters works as it is. It would work as well if the character was called Malathy and not Mellissa. But he believes that we would’ve done 500 shows if we’d Indianised it.

Ra: I’m saying that if we’d adapted the same scenario but had she been a rich Parsi lady…

Rj: It would’ve worked better?

Ra: 200 per cent. And if he’d been a Punjabi guy whose father is in the Navy and they’ve gone from place to place. We would’ve had 200 shows. Right now it’s about two people who we don’t know but we love them for what they’re sharing. The moment we know those characters it works on a different level

Sh: But you don’t have to adapt every play…

Ra: I’m not saying you have to but I’m saying an adapted play is more powerful…

How do you resolve such arguments…

Sh: We don’t! (all laugh) He does his thing, I do mine

Rj: It’s just that if anyone of us feels strongly about what they want to do then there’s no question of stopping them.

Tell us about the journey with Writer’s Bloc…

Ra: When we started off most writers were very conscious of the way they wrote English. So they wrote things like ‘Oh hello’ or ‘Fancy meeting you here’. Who talks like this yaar (Shernaz can’t stop laughing) Not even in London do they talk like this. Such writers would come up to us and tell us why don’t you do our play. I don’t know how to tell them that I’d rather do a foreign play which is authentic English rather than do your play which doesn’t sound English. I remember one critic had ripped Bajirao apart because the dialogues were very conversational and I said, “Thank you!” That’s exactly what we wanted to do.

But the flipside was that a lot of writers said their work would simply end up lying on the shelf. In many ways we have to lay Writer’s Bloc at Shernaz’s feet. She really made it happen.

Sh: For us, Writer’s Bloc happened by chance. They (the team from Royal Court Theatre) happened to be passing by Bombay. Rahul happened to meet them and he said we also want training. So they said ok we’ll come to Bombay and train you. It was only meant to be a training programme but we said no, a script is not complete until it is performed. A play has to be given in an actor’s hands, interpreted by a director and viewed by an audience. That is theatre, it’s not like writing a book. Plays are meant to be performed and then the festival happened and everybody came forward. All the directors we approached said yes let’s do it. It wasn’t easy. To build a writer-director relationship is also not that easy. But it was great fun and we saw the results of the efforts in Writers Bloc 2 when we had over 100 entries in Tamil, Bengali, from tiny corners of India.

Ra: Because the young writer now, for whatever its worth, does feel that there is an avenue for their work. In fact, for the third Writer’s Bloc the attempt is to not get new writers but those writers who were part of WB 1 and 2 should write a new script through a more advanced workshop. And the script will eventually be performed.

Sh: All 21 writers might not take part. If the script is not up to the mark then they won’t make it through even if he or she has been a part of WB before. Some of the writers might not even be available. But we’ll make it a ‘Best of Writers Bloc’. We have to raise the benchmark.

With 36 Ghante (at Prithvi Theatre Festival 2005), you pulled off something unheard of in Indian theatre: 12 writers and directors putting a play on stage within 36 hours. How did you manage it?

Rj: Yeah we would like to do it again…

Sh: No I don’t think I want to do it again! It was so magical. There’s no other way to describe it. The logistics of it were crazy.

Ra: But we managed to get the entire theatre community together in just one night!

Sh: It was actually the details of the logistics. It had to be perfect otherwise it would’ve all fallen flat. Making sure we had those 48 actors and 24 actresses and the writers wrote for all the actors. But we just had a blast. It was weird because suddenly in the greenroom there are actors you’ve seen in the cafe but now they’re right here sharing the greenroom with you, speaking different languages. Then there was that whole holding bay in Prithvi House, where groups had to wait till the previous one’s performed. And everyone rushing in to watch the other plays. Each group got only half an hour on stage. It was packed!

Rh: It was like Woodstock.

Sh: How they’d to come and pick all their scripts?

RJ: You couldn’t choose your slots but you could choose your actors…

Sh: What we did was we called up in advance and we said tell us the four actors you’d want to work with. So we had a list in English, Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati. The director would come in, pick the script, quickly read and then say I want this one (actor), I want this one! That was fun. And some of the pieces were outstanding.

Rj: And all written in one night…

Sh: And Ramu (Ramanathan), writing on the train…he’s coming from somewhere he’s writing the script on the train…such madness…

Ra: In some ways we enjoy getting the community together. Don’t you agree Shernaz, Rajit?

Sh: Ya, ya..totally!

Rj: (breaking out of his reverie) Hmmm…

Ra: It comes down to this simple thing. It’s a bunch of guys who are into different things but they have the same desire to excel in theatre. They come together under the same banner – whether its Writer’s Bloc or 36 Ghante – it just creates a special bond. And here there were people from all four languages. There was one moment, in the morning, at Birla School, where everyone was rehearsing, I looked around and everybody was spread out in classrooms getting their actors together and planning…

Sh: It was like going back to school because everyone was in different classrooms running from here to there, getting cracked up. People getting nervous about their performance…

Rj: There was Konkona Sen Sharma who also came…

Sh: But the most chilled out were the Gujarati actors…

Ra: There was one story I’d heard that for some reason there were 8 actresses, all from the same TV serial who actually asked their director for a day off for 36 Ghante…

Sh: (laughing) Really? I didn’t know this…

Sh: There were about 300-odd people squeezed inside Prithvi…

Rj: There were also plays that went beyond the time limit…

Sh: Yes, they were meant to be ten minutes but they went on for 20-25 minutes. Chetan’s play on Dubeyji was like for half an hour…

What is the keeda in you that makes you do this sort of stuff?

Ra: At the end of the day people like theatre. They like to go watch a play and clap unlike in a movie, which may have much bigger appeal where you’re a passive participant. When you hear laugh-out-loud laughter in I’m not Bajirao, it is indeed infectious. When you come out there and taking a bow in front of an audience that is standing up for you. How can you not want to do it again?

Sh: I think, for me, what’s great is that there is so much more to be done. It’s not like you’ve reached some pinnacle where everything is done. To me that’s a huge thrill

Ra: Also it’s an evolving audience, an evolving city. I don’t know if people know we’ve done I’m not Bajirao. 1996 was a long time ago for most kids today. They know us from Class Of 84 onwards.

Sh: Love Letters has a whole new generation of audience now.

What is the one moment through the journey with Rage that’ll stay with you forever?

Rj: I don’t think I can point out a particular moment. There are various moments – it could be the night of 36 Ghante, it could be the opening night of Writer’s Bloc, it could be when we finished 10 years of Rage. There are so many moments that come to mind.

Ra: For me, it was the opening night of I’m not Bajirao. We honestly did not know how the play would do. Here were these guys sitting on a park bench, yapping. There is no way that kind of play should have such a run actually. Shernaz and I were sitting there in the audience and the first joke that Boman (Irani) says and there was this wave of laughter that spread across. That was the moment for me when I knew that we were onto a good thing.

Sh: Like Rajju, I can’t think of one moment. But I feel blessed that all my friends are from theatre. The kind of people one has gotten close to, one has interacted with, where age doesn’t even matter, where you’ve got a really close friend who’s 24 and another who is 60. And I think that is something I’ve never felt anywhere else. The sense of bonding that we have; if something goes wrong there are 20 people I can call and they’ll be there. Not expecting anything or wanting credit or money. Just because they love theatre as much as you do. The kind of passion and love that theatre people have for theatre, I don’t think it’s there in any other field. Even now if you come backstage there’s Arghya (Lahiri) and Nadir (Khan), these are people we didn’t know five years ago and today we can’t live without them. It’s just fantastic how we keep going like that. And there’ll be a whole generation after them and it’ll just go on…

Where does Rage Productions go from here?

Ra: St. Andrews Backstage… (since the festival was being held there)

Rj: We have to find the fifth gear to this car, four gears are not enough.

Sh: (confused) Fifth gear? What does that mean? Which is the fifth gear?

Rj: (starting to explain) A car usually has…never mind… (another round of laughter) In the next 15 years, we would have found more roads to travel on… Of course we want to do different things. Sometimes people think that we restrict ourselves to so-called English theatre but we do want to do more things. We can really handle large-scale events particularly because of the input of all three of us at a creative level. We would like to perform in smaller cities.

Ra: Yes. Some of the smaller cities, like Jaipur, Chandigarh, and Jalandhar that were big in theatre have waned.

Rj: And when we do a show there audiences keep asking us to come back again soon. Parents would rather that their children get involved in theatre than hang out at the pub all the time…

Ra: (insisting on having the last word) I’m in it because of the casting couch thing.

Rj: When you write about this just underline this statement and please give his cell number next to it so that he gets all the calls. You can give his address too so that they all start queuing up outside.

Ra: But that is the only reason I’m in theatre. I’m starting a friendship club.

Rj: Remove your nameplate from the door and write casting couch there. You can become the Subhash Guy of theatre!

This interview was conducted for and first published in Midday on 2009-03-04 under the headline ‘Don’t hand these three a gun’

Catch The Bureaucrat, One On One and Love Letters this week (March 8 – 10, 2013) at Prithvi Theatre.

Three things to take away from Diary of a Word

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Ahlam Khan Karachiwala and Zafar Khan Karachiwala

Mr and Mrs Khan Karachiwala will be sharing their wedding gift with the audience tonight. Playwright-director Ramu Ramanathan, who has known Ahlam from her days as a student on Mumbai University’s Kalina Campus, wrote his latest play as a gift for the newly weds and now we get to shamelessly share their gift. Since Theatre Adda was privileged to get a sneak peek into a rehearsal of the play, here’s what I picked as the three things to watch out for (which is really difficult to do without giving much of the play and earning the wrath of its makers)…

1.) Zafar’s cool guitar skills.

2.) Ahlam’s super singing skills.

3.) Know how to pronounce daguerreotype (meaning: a direct positive made in the camera on a silvered copper plate. The surface of a daguerreotype is like a mirror, with the image made directly on the silvered surface; it is very fragile and can be rubbed off with a finger, and the finished plate has to be angled so as to reflect some dark surface in order to view the image properly. think spy-fi stuff)? I didn’t know either. But Zafar and Ahlam do. So learn from them.

On: December 8, 5.30 pm; At: Godrej Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point, Mumbai. Call: 022-22824567

Meet Sanjay Dadhich… The new Fanidhar

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To many, especially those who interact with Sanjay Dadhich only briefly, he comes across as one of the most cocky people on the Mumbai theatre scene today. Sure, it does take some amount of smugness to say that it’s the audience’s problem if they compare him to Anurag Kashyap as he talks about his character Fanidhar in Ansh Theatre’s Sir Sir Sarla. His commitment to theatre and Makrand Deshpande, however, is unquestionable. Recently, Dadhich has even attempted writing short plays ― I found his piece in T Pot Productions’ Chaar Smaal, Daddu Tiwari, the most endearing of the four ― and he continues to pursue celluloid dreams alongside his theatre work. The 30-year-old, who has been a regular at Prithvi Theatre (not necessarily on stage, but around the theatre) for the past eight years, rarely speaks about himself. In the past 4-5 years, ever since I started interacting with him on a fairly regular basis, not once has Dadhich sought ‘publicity’ for himself. It’s always about “Sir” (Makrand), or Ansh Theatre, or some other theatre group he is working with. And that’s why, when I got the chance to corner him after a Sir Sir Sarla rehearsal, I decided to grill him a little. Here’s what Dadhich said:

The many beginnings:

“I never did theatre in college. I was in Rajasthan until I was 15 years old, then I gave my SSC exam from Mumbai and did a three year course from St Xavier’s College later. I didn’t know much English then and in Xavier’s you had to know English. I was a bit shy also, that time.

I performed my first play ― Satyadev Dubey’s Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh ― at Prithvi. I played Kartikeya in the play. Now when I look back at what I did in the play I think about how bad I was. But then there’s a possibility that two years hence I’ll look back at Fanidhar and say I could have done it better.

The first time I came to Prithvi I was in the 12th standard and I saw Makrand Deshpande. He was walking away from the theatre and I decided to follow him. He went to the Mukteshwar Temple and bowed before every idol in the temple. I also followed him and bowed in front of every idol in the temple. This happened for about 10-15 minutes and I kept hesitating to talk to him. Suddenly he entered Hare Ram Hare Krishna Temple. There yaar, he went inside and bowed before the Tulsi plant, then some small idols. I also went behind him and continued to bow before everything. Then he went into the main sanctorum and bowed before the main idols and so did I. Then finally when he was on his way out I caught him and told him, “Sir mera naam Sanjay hai. Mujhe theatre karna hai.” He asked, “Abhi kya karte ho?” I said, “12th mein hoon.” So he said, “Pehle graduation complete karo.” That’s when things came to an end for then.

Sometimes I would come to Prithvi to attend Dubeyji’s workshops. After graduation, I worked for T Series for some time but I didn’t stick around there for long. After leaving my job I came to Prithvi and for three to four months I’d ask anybody and everybody I met to include me in their theatre group. Ahmed Khan, Dinesh Thakur saab, I’d just approach anybody I saw here. Then someone told me that Hare Ram Hare Krishna Temple hosts religious plays so I should try my luck there. I went there also. I used to sit for rehearsals there and see that someone’s playing Ram, someone else is Balram. Kamaal ka chai aur samosa milta tha vahan. I didn’t have any money in my pocket then so even that seemed like a luxury. But I didn’t get any work there also.

Then one day I came to Prithvi and saw that Dubeyji was taking a stroll around the campus. So I went behind him and in a slightly dark corner I confronted him and told him, “Hello Dubeyji, mujhe theatre karna hai.” Without a second’s delay, he replied, “Bh****od, sab mere paas aa jaate hain! Sab pradhan mantra ke paas aa jaate hain! Vahaan itne mantra ghoom rahein hain, jao jaakar unse milo.” I thought to myself who is the prime minister and who are these ministers Dubeyji is talking about? Then someone told me that Hidaayat (Sami) is Dubeyji’s khaas and I should meet him. I met Hidaa and he told me to go to the basement of Prithvi House (which was under construction then) and sit for Dubeyji’s play rehearsal. He told me that if Dubeyji asks anything I should just say that Hidaa has sent me. I sat for rehearsals for three days and on the fourth day Dubeyji asked me, “Tum sirf baithe rehte ho ya kuch seekh bhi rahe ho?” I replied in the affirmative. A few days later, Dubeyji wanted some film songs for the play and I said I’ll get them for him because I’d worked in T Series so I knew how to source the songs. In a day’s time I had all the songs in place. As a reward for my work, I was promoted from being a member of the chorus to a proper character. I was very nervous about doing the role. Somehow I came on stage and I see that there is only one person sitting in the audience and that was Amrish Puri, wearing his trademark hat!!! I forgot my lines only. Even in the show I fumbled on my lines. After that, for me, the biggest challenge about acting was to deliver my lines without fumbling.”

The Makrand factor:

“Makrand sir had seen me in Dubeyji’s play and he asked me to meet him at his office. I didn’t go because I was busy doing a play with Shiv Subramaniam. I went a month later and by then he had cast someone else in the role for which he was considering me. Suddenly he asked me, “Have you assisted somebody before?” I said, “No. But I want to.” That was the first time I had spoken in English before somebody, I remember clearly. Before that I wouldn’t speak in English only. From the next day I joined him on the sets of Hanan. After that we struck a bond and eventually he took care of me like a son.

When Sir saw Daddu Tiwari he gave me some advice on acting, not on the writing. We have a typical sir-student relationship so even if he might have liked the piece he wouldn’t tell me so explicitly. He is my guru and whatever I’ve learnt I’ve learnt from him and it’s been a very fruitful journey for me so far.

Convincing family:

“I come from a typical, middle class Marwari family and I’m the eldest son of the family so obviously my parents had certain expectations from me. They were disappointed that I had taken up theatre. Initially, for about two years, I did not even tell them that I was doing theatre. Coincidentally, I was working backstage for Sir Sir Sarla and Anurag had lost his sweater so I had to call my father to get his half sleeves sweater to Prithvi. He got the sweater for me and I said, “Ab aa hi gaye ho toh play bhi dekh lo.” So the first play that my father saw in his life was Sir Sir Sarla.”

On Daddu Tiwari, the first short play he has written:

Trishla was after me and she literally forced me to write the short piece for Chaar Small. To an extent, that piece was based on real events that I’ve experienced. You could say it was a 60% fiction and 40% factual. My village still does not have a railway station and I have no special love for dogs like the character in the love so those were fictional elements. May be people might have thought that I’m some big animal lover after seeing the play. But that’s not the case at all.

When my mother saw the piece she started crying. I asked her why she was being so sentimental and she said, “Tu ne toh gaon ki yaad dila di.””

On Prithvi Theatre:

“I wouldn’t be doing theatre if it wasn’t for Prithvi. I was new to this city and I found out that Prithvi Theatre is a place where Hindi plays are performed and I just came here. It’s not a profitable organisation still Prithvi supports so many theatrewallas. It’s my family. In the last ten years, I’ve spent more time at Prithvi rather than my own home. Kunal (Kapoor) really cares for the actors and the groups. He’s like an invisible father figure. The great thing with Kunal is that he lives at Prithvi House so if we see his car parked here we know that he’s around and he can come around anytime so everybody is a little alert. He takes personal interest in the work that is going on here.”

Theatre experience he’ll take to his grave:

“I remember the day we did the Sir Sir Sarla trilogy at Prithvi. We performed part 1, part 2 and part 3 back to back. I was really young then but I was very fortunate to be part of the event. It’s just a unique experience to perform for six hours and people were also committed to watching all three shows. That day was a special day.”

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The cast and crew of the play ‘Bas Itta Sa’, which was directed by Pt. Satyadev Dubey (extreme left, sitting). Amrish Puri (centre) performed Nirmal Verma’s ‘Dedh Inch Upar’ as part of the same show. The gangly boy on sitting on the extreme right is Sanjay Dadhich. This picture was taken on New Year’s Eve, 2002.

‘I picked Teri Amrita because I’m coming back to theatre after 25 years. ‘

20121201-133151.jpgOm Puri and Divya Dutta at the press meet for Centrestage.

Why do a play in Punjabi?
Well, because this play has already been done in Hindi and they’re still doing it. Farooq Sheikh and Shabana Azmi have been doing this play for the last 20 years and they have the rights to the play. So, the other language that I know is my mother tongue, Punjabi. So therefore I decided to do this play in Punjabi.

Why pick Teri Amrita as your comeback play?
I picked Teri Amrita because I’m coming back to theatre after 25 years. It’s like you know how to swim but you haven’t gotten into the water for the last 25 years and when you want to get into deep waters you are a little hesitant. It is the same kind of hesitation for me. I haven’t been on stage for 25 years so to gain my confidence I decided to do something very simple. It’s about two people who are reading letters that span a timeframe of 35 years of their life. The two go through all kinds of emotions ― happiness, anger, agony, etc ― and there are no props, no music in the play. There’s just two spotlights, which go off only in the end.
But the next play that I pick up will be a normal play in which there’ll be a set, there’ll be music and the works.

How did you rope in Divya Dutta for the play?
Divya Dutta is slightly young for this part so I’m going to dye my hair temporarily for the play. I couldn’t find many actors who can speak Punjabi. But Divya can read Punjabi and she speaks the language very well.

The English version of the play that’s performed on Mumbai stage (Rage Production’s Love Letters, starring Shernaz Patel and Rajat Kapoor) also includes movements. Did you think of portraying the play in a different way when you decided to direct it?
Shernaz Patel told me that they’ve walked around on stage but I’ve not seen their play. But I think since the play is about reading the letters, I feel that if you dramatise it and give it movements then maybe you will miss out on the words. The concentration should be on the words. What is being said and what is being written is important. I don’t want the audience to be distracted by anything which is contrived.

Teri Amrita had its premiere show in Canada before a largely Punjabi audience in August this year. How did the audience react to the play?
They were very pleased and the show went off very well. It was our very first show and it was like a trial for us. The play is mainly for Punjabis but a lot of people whose mother tongue is not Punjabi would also understand the play. Barring a couple of words, the audience will be able to follow the emotions the play is portraying. So a lot of non-Punjabis will also be able to understand the play.

Can you tell us more about the process of translating the play from Hindustani to Punjabi?
I got the play translated and Amrik Gill has done a great job. He is a graduate from the National School of Drama and he teaches at the Punjabi University in Patiala. He is also a wonderful writer. He has written dialogues for a number of films and he is currently directing his first film in Punjabi.

In the last few years, you’ve also gone back to your roots and tried to promote Punjabi theatre. You’ve been instrumental in setting up the Harpal Tiwana Centre for Performing Arts (HTCPA) at Patiala. Can you tell us more about the project?
I did a lot of theatre in Punjab when I was still in college. I started working in theatre in 1966 when I was about 16 years old. I was part of a theatre group called Punjab Kala Manch, which was headed by Harpal Tiwana and Neena Tiwana, his wife. Both of them were NSD graduates and they took me under their wings. Harpal Tiwana was my first guru in acting and I did several plays with him in Punjabi, Hindi as well as translations of English plays in Hindi with him. We did Strindberg’s Father, Oedipus Rex, Camus’ Misunderstanding apart from some original Punjabi and Hindi plays. Then in 1970 I joined NSD.
The Harpal Tiwana Centre for Performing Arts is a wonderful theatre. I’d call it one of the best in the country. Gurdas Mann (singer-actor) and I had met the chief minister of Punjab and requested him that Harpal Tiwana’s contribution to Punjabi theatre should be recognised as he is called the Father of Modern Punjabi Theatre and we want a theatre to be built in his name in his hometown. The chief minister had also seen a couple of his plays and he agreed with us. He promised to build the theatre and within a year the theatre was ready.

Do you see yourself doing more Punjabi plays in the future and taking Punjabi plays across the country and even abroad?
Well, I will do Punjabi theatre but I will also do theatre in Hindi. I also have a particular play in mind for an international audience. Hopefully, I’ll be able to draw in a western audience into the theatre as well.

What’s prompted comeback your to theatre after so many years?
See, I’m 64 now and I can’t expect quality work as a character actor in the kind of films we make in Bollywood. To keep myself busy, to keep my sanity and to keep participating in social life I decided to get back to theatre. Moreover, I can create opportunities for myself in theatre which I can’t do in films. I’m not rich. If I was rich, I would have produced a film. I can afford to produce a play and I’ll continue to do that.

We saw you overseeing rehearsals of Motley’s plays when the group was celebrating its 30th year anniversary. So even though you weren’t totally involved in theatre, you’ve been on the periphery of the theatre scene for a while now…
Not in a very serious manner. I mean Naseer, for example, has been doing theatre very regularly and I admire him and his work although when we came together to Mumbai from NSD it was I who started a theatre group called Majma and Naseer was a part of it. Naseer did Zoo Story and Waiting For Godot through my group. Later when Majma shut down, he started his own theatre group. But for about 6-7 years from 1977 to about 1986, we did a number of plays. Our production of Govind Deshpande’s Udhvastha Dharamshala was the play performed the evening that Prithvi Theatre was inaugurated. I also acted in the play Ghashiram Kotwal before it was made into a film. In the play I played Nana and in the film I played Ghashiram.

Even with your international films you’ve had a theatre connect ― East is East was written for the stage before it was made into a film…
I was also invited to do a role in the play but I didn’t go because, to be honest, there was hardly any money. So I didn’t go. Now there are a lot of actors from theatre, mainly from NSD, who are doing films. But we, Naseer and I, were the first ones who came from NSD and at that time nobody knew anything about National School of Drama.

Which plays would you consider as your most prominent theatre work?
Oh, there were lots of plays. Chekov’s Three Sisters, that we did at NSD would feature on that list. Then I did a Kabuki play called Ibaraki, which was directed by a Japanese director. The play was performed at NSD in Hindi but the style was Kabuki. Another very popular play which I did and which did about 70 shows was Bichhoo (directed by Ranjit Kapoor). It was a Moliere play that was adapted into Hindustani. It was a total comedy and it was a huge success.

Could you tell us a little more about the productions that Majma, your theatre group, did?
Like I said, we did Udhvastha Dharamshala and Bichhoo. We took Bichhoo to the Middle East and Udhvastha Dharamshala was performed in Delhi, Indore, Calcutta and many other places in the country. We did Giddh and Khamosh Adalat Jari Hai, two of (Vijay) Tendulkar’s plays. Another play we did was Andhon Ka Haathi, which was again a political satire. Then we did two plays in English ― Zoo Story and Waiting For Godot.

Which was the last play that saw you on stage?
The last was Udhvastha Dharamshala. Either Udhvastha Dharamshala or Bichhoo. I don’t exactly remember but it was one of the two. In fact, once there was a theatre festival and Jennifer Kapoor asked me to do Bichhoo in the festival. I said, “Ma’am, we’ve not performed Bichhoo for the last six months and the director Ranjit Kapoor is sitting in Delhi and he cant come. The cast would also have to change so it would be difficult for me to do this play.” She said, “What rubbish! If Ranjit Kapoor is sitting there you should direct the play and find new actors.” We didn’t even have proper costumes so she caught hold of me and took me to their garage where they stored all their film costumes. She asked me to take whatever I needed from there. I couldn’t say no to her. When we finally did the play it went so well that she came backstage and she said, “I knew you could do it!”

This interview was first published on Mumbai Theatre Guide