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Nadira, naturally

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Begum Jaan Nadira Zaheer Babbar on the sets of ‘1857 – Ek Safarnaama’
Begum Jaan Nadira Zaheer Babbar on the sets of ‘1857 – Ek Safarnaama’

Nadira Zaheer Babbar on why drama continues to be her “best friend”

No pretences, just natural. A whiff of Nadira Zaheer Babbar is enough to give you this impression. No airs, no frills, just a broad, toothy grin in between directions to the members of her theatre troupe, Ekjute, on make-up, line delivery and so on. Though this Sangeet Natak Akademi award winner started as a stage actor way back in the ’70s, she is today a much-appreciated play director and a script writer . Excerpts from an interview with the versatile personality:Is it true that you were not too keen on theatre when you joined the National School of Drama?

Yes. I was not clear about what I wanted to do in life. Unlike my sisters, I was bad academically. My father was worried. He shared this with Ebrahim Alkazi, who was in National Sschool of Drama then. He suggested that I should join NSD, so I did. But the first few months were difficult. I was not used to the medium as nobody from my family had ever done plays.

Any particular moment when you realised that theatre is your creative medium?

It happened gradually. Today, it is not just my trade because I am qualified to do it, but it is my best friend.

Is it still difficult for a theatre person to survive on sheer merit?

Very. Still, very little money is coming in for theatre. I want to take my plays to the villages, but where is the money?

I don’t want to make a profit on such projects but one needs at least some funds to commute, lodge and feed the troupe.

You recently staged two of your plays, 1857 – Ek Safarnaama and Begum Jaan. Both deal with times gone by. Do we see there a fascination for history in you?

History has always fascinated me. I would like to add that I have done plays which deal with modern issues. I did a play that shows the problem of the maidservants.

Also, I have done a lot of comedy.

In 1857, the script focuses on the common man’s role in the Uprising, an angle not seen in the history books. Did history go wrong somewhere?

I don’t think so. History has always concentrated only on the kings and the queens, so it did the same thing while documenting the 1857 Uprising. But the contribution of the common man was significant too.

As the play’s director, I have tried to show their role in it. I have shown a leader like Nana Sahib.

There is a lot of experimentation on stage now. Is it a natural progression?

Yes. It is bound to happen in any creative field.

Your children, Juhi and Aryan Babbar, had a lukewarm start in Bollywood. Despite talent, is it far more difficult for youngsters to survive as actors than when you started?

It has always been difficult in performing arts.

Lastly, what next?

A holiday! I have not gone on a vacation for 20 years. I owe myself minimum 20 days of rest.

SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY

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