Mahesh Bhatt says the reason for adapting his 1982 classic for the stage is to see how today’s audience reacts to it.

It has been over three decades since Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth touched a raw nerve across the nation. The film on extramarital affairs looked at women’s emancipation and male chauvinism in a new perspective. It bagged one National and three Filmfare Awards.

It also scored brownie points for its music, scored by Jagjit and Chitra Singh. Who can forget the layered lyrics — ‘Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho’, ‘Jhuki jhuki si nazar’, ‘Tere khushboo mein basse khat’, ‘Koi ye kaise bataye’ — penned by Kaifi Azmi, Iftikhar Imam and Rehbar.

Now with the story ready to go on stage, Mahesh Bhatt talks about why he chose to adapt the film script for theatre. Excerpts from an interview:

Why did you think of a theatrical representation for this classic film?

It is not an impulsive idea. I’ve had this in mind for a long time but the decision to remake it for the stage came through actor Imran Zahid, who will enact Kulbhushan Kharbanda’s role. He convinced me that the film should be revisited in today’s social and political landscape.

My film was about gender equality but the tone was not preachy. Independence still is an aspiration for Asian women.

So I am convinced that it is time that the theme was introduced to the next generation through a different medium. It will allow the viewer a peep into some ‘complex’ lives of people from inside out.

Theatre has a limited audience when compared to a film. Doesn’t it involve a risk?

It does. But you get an instant reaction from the audience. Then it will be a travelling show — in most metropolitan cities and smaller ones, depending upon the demand. The idea is not to make money, but to see how the audience of today reacts to it.

But you are not directing the play.

I have moved away from direction and am now writing and mentoring. So Priyanka Pathak, who graduated from the National School of Drama, will direct the play.

Women have always been at the centre of my films and I have worked with female directors too. They have a large influence on the visual impression of the film.

Will it be original to your script? Or “inspired” from your film?

Though the emotional quotient of the 1980s and 2013 is the same, some changes may be incorporated to keep it in sync with modern times. But I am not a creative despot. I won’t interfere in the new director’s vision of the play.

Since it was a classic film, there are bound to be comparisons.

No matter how good my take on the film was, it was not a world view.

I need to know what a young mind now thinks. The audience should not pre-judge.

Arth had terrific actors like Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Rohini Hattangandi. Will you get actors of that calibre for the stage?

That’s going to be the most difficult challenge. It needs intense actors.

How will the play work without the unforgettable ghazals?

I have been bombarded with requests on the social media to use songs from the film in the play. So we are trying to see if those ghazals can be retained. That will be the USP of the play. But there is the copyright issue. I am talking to HMV and Sa Re Ga Ma for giving us the original soundtrack. I have had little success so far. If we succeed, the play will also be a tribute to Kaifi saab and Jagjit Singh.

What has been your own experience of making Arth then and revisiting it now?

The world knows that it had autobiographical elements (a reference to Bhatt’s relationship with Parveen Babi). It was made at a time when one dealt with the frivolities of vulnerable people, not only women, but many people at large in the society. It was a conscious engagement of a life but not in a chest beating way – I feel the film explored all the ‘affected’ characters humanly; that, I suppose, was its greatest achievement. Realisation of this film was cathartic; there was a purge of emotions. But I don’t revisit my past once I am out of it through my films. Now I want to see how the younger lot fashions it in today’s scenario.

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