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How Imran Rasheed became crazy about theatre

Theatre actor-director-writer Imran Rasheed

Theatre actor-director-writer Imran Rasheed   | Photo Credit: Specail Arrangement


Imran Rasheed has done it all, from serving tea backstage to writing and directing plays

When Imran Rasheed did the play ‘Phir Se Shaadi’ on the problems in the life of a young couple due to the Islamic practice of halala, Naseeruddin Shah told him he didn’t know there are even artistes from Bulandshahr, referring to the producer-writer-director-actor’s hometown that was in the news for law and order problem.

Imran grew up in Bulandshahr and then went to Aligarh Muslim University . “Theatre was hardly on my mind. Nobody in my family had even heard of it. When I went to Aligarh, I discovered the world of theatre; because Naseeruddin Shah was from Aligarh, he was talked about a lot. I heard of Nadira Zaheer Babbar too, because her uncle lived in that town.”

While Imran was trying to get into student politics, a friend suggested he get into theatre. So he joined the theatre club there. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But for the next five years, I went there every single day. I started doing some plays and connected with people from theatre. I had no idea till I came to Mumbai that there could be professional theatre and regular shows, that plays ran for years on end. In Aligarh, we did 30-minute shows and after one performance, a play folded up. I believed that is how theatre is done.”

In 2002, Imran came to Mumbai and joined Nadira Babbar’s group Ekjute. He began as a tea boy and cleaner , but eventually learnt how to mount a play and run a group. “When I started working with Nadiraji, I realised the hard work that goes into a play. It was fascinating to watch her write while rehearsing and bringing a play to life. She gave me short pieces to direct in her productions and liked what I did. At Ekjute, I learnt to write, direct and act.”

Imran also started acting in plays by Makrand Deshpande, Akarsh Khurana and Manav Kaul, but he was excited about discovering his writing skills. “Because I had learnt everything from the bottom up, I found this was what I enjoyed doing. Now, writing has become a habit and shauq (passion). I can write a play in 10 days and put up a production in 15 to 20 days. I saw how Mak Sir used to write a few pages, get his actors together, wrote them into the play after a lot of improvisation. I too have adopted this style.” He went on to form his own group Rangbaaz, with friends Pawan Uttam, Sumeet Vyas, Shivani Tanksale and others.

“I had no thought of forming a group, it just happened. I was asked by Rashmi Sharma Telefilms to write a serial; I told them it was not my cup of tea. The boss Pawan Kumar Marut asked me what I wanted to do and I replied, natak (play). He asked me how much it would cost and handed me a cheque. So I had the funds, but no play. Then someone recommended Shaukat Thanvi’s book, Budbak, which I adapted into ‘Bade Miyan Deewane’, adding a lot of humour to the already funny story. I invited a bunch of actors, we did readings, they gave me suggestions and our first production was off the ground. For so many months we rehearsed and partied with hardly a thought of going home.”

Over the next decade, Rangbaaz did 14 productions such as ‘Papa’, ‘Jungle Book’, ‘James And The Giant Peach’, ‘Ek Poora Din’, ‘Pittras Ka Ras’, ‘Phir Se Shaadi’; Imran wrote and directed six. “I don’t want to do everything. Rangbaaz is what it is because other directors like Pawan Uttam, Sumeet and Shivani, Gagan Dev Riar, Raghav Dutt and Nitin Bhardwaj did plays with the group. So many talented directors and actors have emerged from Rangbaaz. I think this experiment worked, because it brought in so much dedication and variation to our work.”

The uproariously comic ‘Bade Miyan Deewane’, a Molieresque play about an old man (played by Imran) falling for a young girl, remains the group’s most successful production which, Imran thinks, taught him how to connect with audiences, “A line we thought was funny sank without a laugh and the one we thought was okay had them cracking up with laughter. It takes about ten shows for a play to grow and settle, and it is a process of constant research.”

His latest production,Phir Se Shaadi’, which conveys a powerful social message with humour has been turned into a film, retaining most of the actors from the play. “Like I never learnt to direct a play, I never formally learnt film direction — it just happened. I think a director’s prime task is to get the actors to perform well — the technicians do their jobs well anyway. I bring theatre discipline to a film shoot — I was the first to arrive and the last to leave, and though we were shooting in winter in Aligarh, we had a great time.”

Imran is now busy writing his next play ‘Mazhab’, about a man who finds he is worth more dead than alive. “It is a strange story, and like everything I write, somehow connected to my own experiences. Even the incidents in ‘Phir Se Shaadi’ actually happened in Aligarh. In ‘Mazhab’, I also want to include what is going on around us, this atmosphere of fear that Naseerbhai talked about, and look at the backlash he faced. I discovered myself through my work. Now I can do anything… theatre made my shakhsiyat (personality), so I can never ever leave theatre. I discovered myself through my work. Now I can do anything… theatre made my shakhsiyat (personality), so I can never ever leave theatre,” says Imran.

The writer is a critic and columnist

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Printable version | Dec 14, 2019 1:37:50 PM |

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