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.

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