Monday, March 21, 2016

A Verbal Thrust And Parry

Naseeruddin Shah impresses, along with Rajit Kapur, in the English play, 'A Walk In The Words' and talks about his enduring love for theatre

Photos by Ratheesh Sundaram 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Jamaluddin Saab,” says Ram Chinappa.

Call me Jamal,” says Jamaluddin. “In fact, my friends call me Jams. What about you? Do they call you Pants?”

This witty exchange is from the English play, 'A Walk In The Woods', which was held at the JT Pac, Kochi, on March 6. While Naseeruddin plays Pakistani diplomat Jamaluddin Lutfullah, Rajit Kapur plays Ram Chinappa, the Indian interlocutor. They are both in Geneva to discuss peace proposals. The play is an adaptation of the original work, written by American Lee Blessing in 1988, and has been directed by Naseeruddin's wife Ratna Pathak.

Thanks to the amusing thrust and parry between Naseeruddin and Rajit, laughter breaks out often, in the sell-out audience, which includes superstar Mohanlal. “These two try to find some common ground, as diplomats and human beings,” says Naseeruddin. “Their attempts don't result in anything fruitful, but does raise the possibility of a personal friendship between an Indian and a Pakistani.”

There is no doubt that Naseeruddin, at age 66, is still in top form. Or, as Mohanlal said, at the end of the play, “Naseer is a great actor.”

Naseer is part of a group of rare actors, who, despite commercial successes in Bollywood, continue to do theatre.

I love theatre,” he says, during an interaction before the play. “One can engage with the greatest writing in the world of the past one thousand years. You can do an ancient Greek play, or a 500-year-old [William] Shakespeare play. Where do you get that level of writing in films? And when you engage with great writing over a period of time, it slowly reveals itself. After the 100th performance, we realise that what we did in the first show was not that good.”

Naseeruddin also likes the bareness of theatre. “We prefer to use only words and actors,” he says. “When Shakespeare was doing his plays, there was nothing on stage. And he created worlds out of words. He had very little props. There was a man shaking a tin can to create thunder. To get the sound of gunfire, a cannon would be fired, and once a theatre caught fire because of that.”

Regarding the difference between film and theatre acting, Naseeruddin says, “There is no difference. People imagine that, on stage, you have to enlarge your performance. But the person, sitting in the last row, if he is focusing on your performance, is able to see everything. The human eye has a greater level of focus than any camera lens.”

But the best part for Naseeruddin is the feeling of exhilaration he feels while interacting with the audience. “It is not only the applause, response, laughter and live reactions,” he says. “There is something deeper than that. It is a subconscious connection between the actors and the audience.”

Meanwhile, when asked about the current talent level, Naseeruddin mentions noted Marathi movies like 'Masaan' (Neeraj Ghaywan), 'Court' (Chaitanya Tamhane), and 'Highway' (Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni). “I also liked the Hindi film, 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha' (Sharat Katariya),” he says. “These directors are the treasures of today. And they would not have been here without the Shyam Benegals and Govind Nihalinis who had come earlier. And they would not have been there, without the Mrinal Sens, Ritwik Ghataks, and Adoor Gopalakrishnans.”

After more than 40 years in the trade, with movies like 'Aakrosh', 'Sparsh', 'Mirch Masala', 'Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Ata Hai', 'Nishant', 'Junoon', 'Ardh Satya', and 'Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro', and winning numerous acting awards, as well as the Padma Bhushan, Naseeruddin has had a successful career. But his definition of success is unusual.

Success, to me, is to be able to do what you want to do,” he says. “If I feel like doing a commercial movie for lots of money I can do that. If I feel like doing a small Rs 50 lakh movie to be shot in the interiors of Kerala, I do it. If I feel like doing a play, or a workshop for students, or resting for two months and playing tennis, I can do that.”

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

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