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