Though his first love is theatre, he has used his creative urge in different genres. Madhur Tankha meets Salim Arif ….

Notwithstanding the fact that theatre is his primary preoccupation, director-cum-designer Salim Arif is keen on exploring new frontiers in the dream factories of Bollywood.

Shedding light on his much-talked-about play “Kachche Lamhe” that was staged at India Habitat Centre in the Capital recently, Salim says the play was penned by filmmaker-cum-playwright Gulzar himself and its story was on his favourite subject of human relationships.

“First shown in 2005, the play has been staged in the country and abroad. It is about a theatre couple whose lives are woven around plays and performances. While the husband is engrossed in his creative pursuit, the wife pines for freedom from the bondage of borrowed identity. She stumbles upon a jovial person and decides to move out with him.”

For the play, Salim says he was able to rope in film and television actor Harsh Chhaya as one of the protagonists because of his personal equation with him.

Working on and off with Gulzar for nearly two decades, Salim holds the multi-faceted personality in high esteem. “Gulzar’s much talked about film ‘Maachis’ was a memorable experience for me. As Associate Director of the film, I had to focus on the look of the film and was also entrusted with the task of dubbing, rehearsal and planning for the film. Even while shooting I could sense that ‘Maachis’ would become a critically acclaimed film. The cast was refreshing -- Tabu was a good friend, Om Puri was somebody whom I knew well and Chandrachur Singh and Jimmy Shergil were making their debut.”

Salim says during the day, all the artistes and crew would go outdoors to shoot the film against the backdrop of the picturesque Manali. “At night we would return to our hotel room to watch a sporting event on television,” says Salim, who was also the Associate Director in Gulzar’s film “Hu Tu Tu”.

In Khalid Mohammed’s “Fiza” that showed the ugly side of terrorism, Salim got a chance to work with Karishma Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan with whom he shared an excellent chemistry.

In Mani Ratnam’s epoch-making film “Guru”, Salim bagged the job of a consultant that was a challenging task. “Before taking up any assignment it is important to read, research and analyse the subject. I had to give the look of Mumbai of 1950s’ and 1960s’. As certain portions were filmed in Gujarat and Karnataka, I had to work on the background of these two States in terms of sets and costumes.”

Sharing some of his nostalgic days at the National School of Drama, Salim says he got a chance to play various characters there but was keen on grasping the intricacies of direction and design. “I saw myself as a non-actor. Actually, it is a matter of perception. I was keen to do the behind-the-scene role. Unfortunately, NSD is seen as an institution that produces only actors but it has equally talented directors like Rajat Kapoor. However, I showed my histrionics in the play ‘Bibi O Bibi’, read Ghalib’s letters in “Ghalibnama” and last year at Prithvi Theatre read flawless poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.”

Taking a trip down memory lane to recount some of his fond memories of Delhi, Salim says during the early 1980s he and other theatre people would walk from NSD to Pragati Maidan to watch movies at Shakuntalam Theatre. We would also go to the Statesman office to sip piping hot tea and would munch parathas at ITO. During Ramzan, I sauntered off to Jama Masjid and ate mouth watering kebabas.”

For the theatre festival “Apna Utsav” in 1980s’ in Delhi, Salim was entrusted with the mammoth task of doing design and lighting at 24 monuments. “It was a Herculean task to make arrangement at so many monuments for the dance and music programme.”

As theatre is Salim’s first love, he continues to conduct workshops across the country to teach the nuances of acting to budding theatre actors. “The secret of success of my critically acclaimed play ‘Aap Ki Soniya’ was its script. That is why it has been performed extensively in the country and abroad. Besides theatre, I am keeping myself busy by interacting with people from across the country at Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods International in Mumbai. I am head of the Production Design there,” says Salim, who was commissioned by Encyclopaedia Britannica (India) to do an appraisal of the costumes in Hindi Cinema in 2003.