The best of director Feroz Khan will be on stage at the Old World Theatre Festival.
Almost all his endeavours were stringed to acclaim. His play “Mahatma Vs Gandhi” and his debut film “Gandhi My Father” drew attention, sparked debates and scooped in accolades. Another play, “Tumhari Amrita”, continues unbridled 17 years after it was first staged. “Saalgirah” lured back to the stage an accomplished actor — Kiron Kher. His “Salesman Ramlal” gave Arthur Miller's classic “Death of a Salesman” a searing contemporary adaptation.
The best of theatre and film director Feroz Khan will be on view when the Old World Theatre Festival takes off on December 5. Two of his classics, “Tumhari Amrita” and “Salesman Ramlal”, will be performed and “Gandhi My Father” screened. As a producer, he brings in “All the Best” and the acclaimed “Out of Bounds” set in South Africa.
It was a meeting with the iconic Jennifer Kapoor in the early 1980s that set Khan firmly on the track to theatre. “That's when I made the dangerous decision of living off theatre,” jests Khan in a telephonic interview, as he waits for his flight.
Jennifer passed away shortly and Khan stepped in as the first artistic director of Prithvi and continued till 1992 when the mantle was passed on to Sanjana Kapoor. It is the 1980s Khan calls the “best time in theatre”, not only because there were great practitioners at work in Mumbai, but also because extraordinary people were doing theatre in Delhi too.
“Some of the finest actors were in theatre at the time — Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Pankaj Kapur, Anupam Kher, Annu Kapoor, Shafi Inamdar, Arundhati Nag, Neena Gupta, Alok Nath, Amrish Puri… It would be a good play or have extraordinary performances,” says Khan. Another learning experience, he says, was watching the legendary Ratan Thiyam's “Chakravyuh.” “It opened me to the possibilities of theatre.”
Prithvi theatre and its people left an indelible mark on Khan. If Jennifer made the foundations of Prithvi strong, Khan remembers Shashi Kapoor gave ample support by providing the capital. “It was the only place where they used their own money to create a public trust. It was stunning,” he says.
It is not surprising that one of his masterpieces “Tumhari Amrita” has links to Prithvi and Jennifer. “It was meant to be a tribute to Jennifer on her birthday,” he recollects. He embarked on “Tumhari Amrita”, a novel play with two lovers reading out letters written to each other over 35 years, as he wanted to break away from the “big” productions he did before — “The Royal Hunt of the Sun” and the Gujarati play “Eva Mumbai Ma Chaal Jaiye.”
“I wanted to do away with everything I did before,” says Khan. He constantly displayed aversion to being bogged down by genres. “Saalgirah” followed, which brought the Khers together and “Mahatma Vs Gandhi” came soon after. However it is “Salesman Ramlal” that he picks as his “most satisfying work.”
“A great play is given a contemporary touch. I know every corner of the characters in the play. It is disturbing and really special,” says Khan.
If “Gandhi My Father” ate up his time, he comes back now with “Out of Bounds” directed by Tina Johnson, which tells the tale of the Indian diaspora in South Africa. “We are planning more exchange of voices from that part. South Africa has the second and third generation of Indians who went in as labourers and traders, lived under apartheid and after that adjusted to the new life there,” he adds.
If the stories of the migrants to the United States and the United Kingdom have come to the forefront, Khan believes the South African immigrant story has been largely untouched. The director meanwhile is getting into the groove with work on plays and a couple of film ideas.