Veteran director Anil Sharma on what ticks with Delhi and the risks of going solo.
Delhiites make whimsical theatre watchers but they always fall for familiar comedy. According to director Anil Sharma, the trick is to push the envelope of serious theatre through comedies. For the first time, Sharma is hosting the Mitr Theatre Festival at Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts this week. From August 15 to 19, the festival features six plays, including five directed by him.
Two of Sharma’s plays and another play — Vijay Tendulkar’s “Massage”, directed by Harbansh Singh — are solo acts. Solo acts are not known to pull crowds unless played by a celebrity, says Sharma, yet he adds, “It is a challenge which we give ourselves to test our abilities as artistes.”
Sharma’s solo plays “Daya Shankar ki Diary” and “Sakku Bai” are on Friday. Both plays are written by Nadira Zaheer Babbar. “Diary”, about a struggler in Bollywood, stars Daksh Vashisht, and Monika Misra stars in and as “Sakku Bai”, a play on domestic helps. Both actors, though renowned, aren’t celebrities.
Sharma’s logic of experimenting with solo plays is that theatre never promises a fortune in any case. “There’s no money, but there is a lot of satisfaction. With careful planning and regularly doing plays we can break even. It is difficult to attract crowds to solo plays but it really shows an actor’s calibre. If the actor pulls it off well, it is a jewel in his crown,” he says. The closing play of the festival is “Massage”, in which well-known actor Rakesh Bedi plays 24 characters of people an aspiring cine actor meets in Mumbai.
Sharma clubs the Delhi audience in two categories — those who like large-scale plays and those who love comedy. The former will go for large-scale productions like Surendra Verma’s “Qaid-e-hayat” or Dharamvir Bharati’s “Andha Yug”.
“These involve huge sets and a large cast, like ‘Andha Yug’, which was staged at the Ferozeshah Kotla ruins last year. But the bulk of the theatre audience here needs comedy and satire; a play on issue with comedy sells. Delhi is not Mumbai, Kolkata or Bhopal where many people like serious plays,” he says. This festival too has some time-tested comedies, like Ajay Shukla’s “Taj Mahal ka Tender”, a comedy on corruption, and Tendulkar’s “Jati hee Poocho Sadhu ki”, which played on Thursday. But the festival opened with a serious play on Partition — Asghar Wajahat’s “Jis Lahore Nai Dekhya O Jamiya Nai.”
Sharma has been associated with some of Delhi finest theatres troupes like Act One and Pierrot’s Troupe. “Plays by Badal Sircar, Vijay Tendulkar, KP Saxena, Vijay Dan Deta, Shankar Puntambekar and Sharad Joshi will always draw an audience in this city. People are generous and they can spend up to Rs.500 for a ticket. But it takes all our skills to keep them in the theatre,” he adds.
For tickets to the festival, visit buzzintown.com or call 9313770131 or 9871754750.