Monday, September 17, 2012

Following Dad, but in her own way

Ahlam Khan, the daughter of the late Bollywood icon Amjad Khan, loves acting. But it is in theatre and not in films

By Shevlin Sebastian

In the play ‘Rafta Rafta’, there is a scene in the kitchen of a middle-aged Punjabi couple, Vishu and Suman Malhotra, in London. Suman, her new Muslim daughter-in-law Tasneem and her mother Fatima are having a chat.

Fatima tells Suman, “I used to go to sleep and wake up the next morning and think, ‘Raat Ko Ho Gaya’ (It happened during the night).”

Tasneem says, “Ma, I won't have that problem. I have read all about the theory of sex.”

Fatima says, “Is that enough? Men are guided by what is between their legs. But without love, marriage is a long, slow death.”

Very few people in the audience at the JT Performing Arts Centre at Kochi would have known that Fatima is being played by Ahlam Khan, the 30-something daughter of the late Amjad Khan (Gabbar Singh of ‘Sholay’ fame).

And unlike her father, Ahlam has stayed away from Bollywood. Instead, her first and last love is theatre. It all began when she was doing her master’s in English literature at Mumbai University in 2000. “We were put in touch by our lecturer Dr. Nilufer Bharucha with playwright Ramu Ramanathan,” says Ahlam. “He used to come once a week and read plays with us.” 

Soon, Ramanathan put up a production for the English department. Based on a short story by Malayalam writer Vaikom Mohammed Basheer called, ‘Me Grandad ‘ad an elephant’, it was well received. “We took the play outside and did a lot of shows at Prithvi theatre,” she says.

In the past 12 years, Ahlam has acted in several English, Gujarati and Hindi plays. Interestingly, for the Hindi plays, she has performed in smaller towns like Gorakhpur and Rae Bareilly. “In these places, the auditoriums are small, the stages are makeshift, the green rooms and toilets may not be up to the mark but the people are so welcoming and enthusiastic that we easily forget all the drawbacks,” says Ahlam. Some of the plays in which she has acted in include ‘Miss Beautiful’, ‘Poha Gone Wrong’, ‘Shakespeare and She’, ‘Grey Elephants in Denmark’ and ‘Pereira’s Bakery at 76 Chapel Road’.

Asked why the daughter of a Bollywood icon did not go into films, Ahlam says, “A lot of people choose a career in Bollywood because of the glamour. But I have seen it from the inside. There is a bad side too. When my father died, a lot of his filmi friends just disappeared. You are as good as your last film. Equations keep changing all the time. I was put off by that.”

Nevertheless, a few years ago, Alam took a break from theatre and decided to write scripts for Bollywood. But it was not a good experience. “A lot of projects which I wrote, when it came to the financial or production stage, it would get stalled,” she says. “My sensibility was never mainstream or commercial cinema. I always believed in a parallel cinema. It was bizarre to meet producers and directors who wanted absolute rubbish that I finally gave up.”

But Ahlam has had some good experiences in film also. For her friend Bijoy Nambiar’s short film, ‘Reflections’, she played one half of a romantic couple. The hero was Malayalam actor Mohanlal, who was playing a lonely 60-year-old man.  

I was intimidated by Mohanlal’s presence on the set [at the Borivili National Park, Mumbai],” she says. “But despite being a superstar he was so humble and down-to earth. He knew my dad well. He said, ‘Your father was a great man. His goodwill and his name live on after so many years.’ When Mohanlal said that it made me feel so proud of my father.”

Ahlam was 15 when Amjad Khan died at the age of 51. “I was always Daddy’s little girl,” she says. Asked what she learnt from her father, she says, “My father was an intensely honest person. I got that from him. I was too young to get any acting tips. But my deepest regret is that I will never be able to share a theatre stage with him. Many people don’t remember that he started his career in theatre.”

Ahlam sounds poignant when she says this, but good things have happened in her life. In January, 2010, she met actor Zafar Karachiwala. “I fell really hard,” she says. “We got married in September. We were old enough to know that it was the real thing.”

Ahlam is a bit dazed by how quickly it happened. “In all these years I never fancied anybody, be it an actor or a director,” she says. “It is rare in theatre, because, inevitably, you develop feelings for somebody. And I would keep bragging to my friends about how I kept a clean slate.”

She bursts out laughing, and says, “That’s how life is. It is so unpredictable.”

Her future plans include working with her husband in his theatre company ‘Orchid Room Experiment’, and continuing to act in plays. “Acting is in my blood,” says Ahlam, with a smile.

(The Sunday Magazine, New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

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