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Film stars seek spotlight on stage

A number of screen actors have been doing plays. Except for cinema-cum-theatre personalities like Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Anupam Kher, Farooque Shaikh or Paresh Rawal, they are performers out of the limelight. V. GANGADHAR analyses the trend.

Actor-turned-BJP stalwart, Shatrughan Sinha, used his appearance in "Pati, Patni aur Woh" to boost his image.

WELL-KNOWN actor and theatre director Feroz Khan ("Tumhari Amrita," "Mahatma vs Gandhi" ) talks authoritatively on the topic. ``I have no problems directing movie stars for the stage. But they must conform to the discipline of the stage. No tantrums, no special treatment, no star airs.''

Over the years, Feroz Khan has directed successful Hindi plays featuring screen stars like Anupam Kher, Shabana Azmi, Farooque Shaikh and Naseeruddin Shah. ``I have had no problems with them,'' he says. ``They think it is a privilege to work on the stage, and despite their success in the movies, keep on returning to the stage.''

Feroz extracted a sterling performance from the National School of Drama-trained, small time Bollywood actor turned big director, Satish Kaushik, in "Salesman Ramlal," a brilliant adaptation of Arthur Miller's classic play, "Death of A Salesman."

``Despite his obsession for Bollywood success, I will not consider anyone else for this role,'' points out Feroz.

With a flood of small and big time Bollywood stars now landing on Mumbai's Hindi stage, Feroz Khan could be considered lucky because he chose stars who have a sound background in theatre and were groomed at institutions like the NSD or Mumbai's famous Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA). ``My stars are familiar with the challenges of the theatre — direct contact with the audience, no retakes and no camera to enhance their good looks.''

Challenge or no challenge, dozens of Bollywood actors are now enacting a variety of roles on the city's stage. Many of them belong to the `faded' category.

Dinesh Thakur, whose theatre group ANK has been doing good work for the past 27 years, does not take kindly to the invasion. ``Are they really sincere in their work? Can they change their style of working and do away with star tantrums? I have no use for them in my plays.''

Of course, there have always been film stars who started their acting careers on the stage and for whom the stage has not lost its fascination.

"Please... Divorce Me Darling" had Rati Agnihotri as a brazen heroine.

Character actor Paresh Rawal has been associated with the theatre for the past 30 years and considers it the real challenge. ``I am a theatre man,'' he says with finality. ``Of course, I do not have much time these days to do plays, but my heart is with the stage.'' For years, Mumbai theatre lovers have been fortunate enough to watch Naseeruddin Shah produce, direct and emote on local stage in Hindi and English, handling everything from Shakespeare and Shaw to modern Indian plays. NSD alumni Anupam Kher waited for years, doing stereotype roles on the Hindi screen, to return to the stage. He returned some years ago with the acclaimed play, "Saalgirah," and more recently with the autobiographical, one-man play, "Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai."

While appearing frequently in the two-actor play "Tumhari Amrita" with Shabana Azmi, character-actor Farooque Shaikh recently did "Azhar ka Khwab," an Urdu adaptation of "My Fair Lady."

The more recent entrants on Mumbai's Hindi stage are more associated with the glamour brigade and not exactly known for their acting talent. Zeenat Aman made her stage debut with a comedy, "Chupke, Chupke," and then tried the Hindi version of Mrs Robinson's role from the movie, "The Graduate." Padmini Kolhapure made her stage appearance in "Kaash," playing the role of a call girl. She joins other stars like Sonali Bendre and Rati Agnihotri. The latterwas seen as the brazen heroine in plays like "Please... Divorce Me Darling," an adaptation of the famous Broadway hit, "Cactus Flower."

Joining this bandwagon of former Bollywood stars is Shoma Anand, who was seen in "Hungama ho gaya." The notorious screen villain, Ranjeet, also made his stage debut some years ago but has not been seen again.

Zeenat Aman in "Chupke, Chupke."

Actor-turned-BJP stalwart, Shatrughan Sinha, used his solestageappearance in "Pati, Patni aur woh" to boost his image. Most of the stars mentioned above are in the `faded' or `fading' category and their stage debuts could be seen as the last, desperate attempts to be in the limelight. If so then their choice of plays is strange. Most of them opted for silly, sex comedies or bedroom farces with dialogue that has enough double meaning to earn applause from the lower stalls. They were roped in by producers and promoters who had hoped that the star names would be a box office draw. In most cases this did not happen.

``This was to be expected,'' says Dinesh Thakur. ``You just cannot walk on the stage expecting good roles and audience applause. How many of these fading stars know anything about stage discipline and finer points of stage acting? So they have to depend on strip tease and cheap dialogue.''

Many regular Mumbai theatre-goers seem to agree. ``The curiosity value of former big stars on the stage, disappears after one or two performances,'' points out Jyoti Pandit a theatre-goer. ``Many of these former stars were not known for their acting abilities and were projected for their glamour. This would not work on the stage.''

But Mumbai provides opportunities for everyone. Some of them (fading stars) even joined politics, during the last Lok Sabha polls, but after the results were out, they faded away quietly.

``Anything goes, for a bit of media publicity,'' observes an avid star watcher. ``But who's complaining? Tomorrow Amitabh Bachchan may join the stage-bound brigade and that will add to the fun.'' Obviously, all the world is a stage for Mumbai's fading stars.

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