Tribute To Dinesh Thakur, the founder of ANK who passed away recently, staged, acted in and promoted Hindi theatre passionately.

Since 1980, I have been visiting Mumbai’s Prithvi theatre. But now it will not be the same. Of course, the Irish Coffee is still there and a book section has also been added. But I cannot imagine Prithvi without Dinesh Thakur, the Hindi theatre stalwart who passed away on September 20.

When stalwarts die, the institutions they helped to flourish suffer. First it was Satyadev Dubey, another Prithvi star, now it is Dinesh. I will miss his intense, gravelly voice inviting me for yet another ANK anniversary and details of a new play. Nearly 60-odd plays in 36 years. Single-handedly, he helped create interest in Hindi theatre in Mumbai and assisted Prithvi to find its feet. Quick to acknowledge the role of Jennifer Kapoor, Dinesh observed, “To me, Jennifer was Prithvi. Whenever I performed there, it was for her.”

His passionate involvement with Hindi theatre covered all its aspects. When Dinesh landed in Bombay with a degree from Delhi’s Kirori Mal College with some knowledge of theatre, he got offers from films. Some of them were good roles such as in ‘Mere Apne’, ‘Anubhav’ and the 1974 Basu Chatterjee blockbuster, ‘Rajniganda,’ which was Filmfare’s Movie of the Year. While Amol Palekar played the typical boy-next-door to Vidya Sinha, Dinesh was the chain smoking, sophisticated urban ad person.

‘Rajnigandha’ was a clean, wholesome, family movie reflecting the spirit of the age. Dinesh continued with films and won awards for the story and screenplay of ‘Ghar’. But he knew he was destined for the theatre and his ANK group was born in 1976.

Hindi drama was an unknown entity in Bombay, where Marathi theatre had its roots and the urban audiences were partial to English bedroom farces and occasional classical plays. Dinesh had to breakthrough and he did it by staging the plays of Vijay Tendulkar, Girish Karnad, Mohan Rakesh, Shankar Shesh and Elkunchwar. In the early 1980s, Prithvi under Jennifer Kapoor was a source of encouragement. But tickets had to be sold and the ANK volunteers did some brisk car-to-car sale at Juhu, persuading the occupants to watch the new Hindi plays.

If variety was needed, ANK provided it. Adaptations from Chekov, Moliere, Shaw, Neil Simon, Oliver Goldsmith, Ayn Rand and even Agatha Christie emerged from ANK. Thakur offered good plays with different titles such as ‘Pygmalion,’ which became, ‘Tum Kya Jano Preet Parai’ or ‘Send Me No Flowers’ that was performed as ‘Hai Mera Dil’ and, which set a record of over 1,200 shows. The 60-plus plays of ANK Ank had had more than 5,000 shows in India and abroad.

Some years ago, Dinesh, in a media interview, scoffed at the belief that theatre was a society changer. He felt that perhaps it could be one of the tools for such a change. He staged plays because he derived ‘mazaa’ (fun) from them. Was that a tongue-in-cheek remark?

ANK staged plays with passion, handled sensitive and socially relevant topic such as ‘Kanyadan’ and the more recent, ‘Jin Lahore Nahi Dekhiyan’, a searing comment on the partition.

If ‘mazza’ was needed, he provided it with gusto. Dara Singh, while watching ‘Hai Mera Dil,’ laughed so hard that he fell out his seat. Another anecdote is about a pregnant woman. While watching the same play, she was rushed to the car which was waiting outside Prithvi and delivered a baby. Years later, the baby, who had grown into a fine young man and his wife, came to Prithvi for ‘Hai Mera Dil’!

As much a lover of the printed word as grease paint, Dinesh surrounded himself with writers and critics who genuinely liked theatre. The pre-ANK festival party was attended more by writers and ideas were tossed around freely. The communal poison slowly creeping into our system deeply upset him and he wanted the creative community to do more in tackling the problem. With increasing health issues, Dinesh could not be everywhere, or do everything. It is now left to wife Pritha Mathur, valuable ally and partner, to take the ‘ANK’ banner forward.

Keywords: Dinesh Thakur

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