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P. ANIMA
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Theatre Saurabh Shukla makes a red hot return to the stage. P. ANIMA

FIRST LOVE Saurabh Shukla in New Delhi. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma
FIRST LOVE Saurabh Shukla in New Delhi. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

H indi films may have met a reliable actor in Saurabh Shukla with “Bandit Queen”. But when director Shekhar Kapur invited Saurabh to Mumbai and films, it was theatre's loss. And it remained so for the next 18 years, till he chose to mend it. Saurabh returns to the stage and his theatre karmabhoomi - Delhi next week with “Red Hot”, a Hindi comedy adapted from Neil Simon's “Last of the Red Hot Lovers.”

Theatre, he says, lost out in his struggle to find his feet in films.

“When Shekhar called me to Bombay, it also started a struggle to find my space in the new medium and it took me the maximum time. I have been constantly involved with that medium since,” says the actor who in these years sought to etch out a space for himself as a script writer and director too.

Being plucked away from Delhi also meant a sabbatical from stage. “Bombay was not my city — where my theatre happened.” Predictably, his homecoming to drama will be on home ground. “The play will open in Delhi for the specific reason that I started in Delhi and it is my tribute to the place.”

However, the man behind the script of “Satya,” has chosen an adapted text instead of going full-throttle on his comeback. But the actor seems convinced. “It is not that I wanted to do a comedy, but found this play, read it and loved it and wanted to do it.” As a writer himself, Simon's craft appears impeccable to Saurabh. “Neil Simon is truly amongst one of the geniuses of our time. His writing is classy and shows the finer intricacies of human life. Infidelity is the subject of this play, but Simon has written it in such a wonderful way that it dissects the present day life.”

Digging deeper into not going for an original script, Saurabh says, “For a long time, I have been practising film writing and the whole approach to writing is different there. At this point, there is nothing in my head that can be converted into a play. Whatever I have is more cinematic and less theatrical. And to be honest, when you write for films, you get paid more.”

However, Saurabh has relied on his writer's sensibilities to adapt. “As a contemporary American writer, Simon's play reflects his surroundings. That was a challenge for me. I had to adapt it such a way that it doesn't sound like an American or English play. I didn't want to merely translate it, so took some liberties to make it absolutely Indian. While watching the play, one should get the feeling that this guy exists in India. I have not touched the soul of Simon's play but given it the colour of our country and our people.”

Saurabh will play the only male character of Parmeet Singh Sethi in the play. Nigar Khan, Mona Vasu and Prieti Mangain, with whom Saurabh shared the stage in Arthur Miller's “A View from the Bridge” almost 25 years ago, will make the rest of the cast.

Even while carving out time for theatre, Saurabh remains entrenched in films. Currently shooting for Prakash Jha's “Aarakshan” and Chandra Prakash Dwivedi's “Kashi Ka Assi,” he has scripted Rajat Kapoor's “Fatso, A Rectangular Love Story” and is writing and directing “Pappu Can't Dance Saala”. “I am also writing scripts for Kamal Hassan, Sudhir Mishra and another for Rajat Kapoor,” he says, meanwhile shuttling between Bhopal, Benaras and Mumbai.

Red Hot

Adapted and directed by: Saurabh Shukla

Produced by: Stage Fry Productions

At Kamani Auditorium, Mandi House

February 18, 19 and 20 at 6.30 p.m.


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