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How Jaimini Pathak found his place on stage

Jaimini Pathak  

It has been 30 years since Jaimini Pathak established his own theatre group —Working Title — and produced about 18 plays, directed and acted in several of them, wrote one, along with acting in the plays of some of the best directors in Mumbai.

After spending his childhood all over the South and then Ajmer, because his father worked with the railways, Jaimini fought the usual middle-class expectations to study science and become an engineer or doctor, landed in Mumbai’s St Xavier’s college to “suffer eco-stats double major” and stayed in the hostel. “The college had a fantastic library . I don’t think I have read as much in my life as I did in college,” he says.

When he was in the second year, some friends planned to do a 40-day workshop with Mumbai’s theatre maverick Satyadev Dubey. “I didn’t know who he was. But I was the only one who enrolled for it. After this workshop, I decided theatre is what I want to do. Then Dubeyji said, there’s this guy, Sunil (Shanbag), who is doing a play, go work with him. So for a long time I ended up shuttling between Dubeyji and Sunil’s plays. Naseeruddin Shah saw me and cast me in one of his plays. I was thrilled that someone like him calls and without an audition , says, here is your role. These days, there are auditions, back then people watched an actor on stage and decided if he was good.”

Turning up for rehearsals and memorising the whole play was his “survival strategy.” Dubey used to have an associate director, whose job was to remind him his lines; in the process, Jaimini used to learn the script from beginning to end and if any actor dropped out, or was thrown out by Dubey — “as was his practice”— he could easily step into the part. “Dubeyji gave you a lot, but he also extracted a lot out of you — he was a terror. It was a different era — there was no TV, there was no such thing as a fulltime actor, so we turned up for rehearsals whenever we were called.”

Jaimini solved the near impossible situation of finding affordable accommodation in Mumbai by extending his courses at the university and staying in the hostel. Then he was cast as the lead in a TV serial, Farz, and that was the end of money trouble. “When I look back,” he says, “life has been something of a miracle. The right thing happening at the right time, with the right people. There was a time in the mid-Nineties, when Makrand Deshpande wanted me to do a play with him, and said I was already doing five plays, how could I fit in rehearsal time for a sixth?”

Eventually, he turned to direction, because, “I had already worked with all the directors on my bucket list. Besides, if you work with the same bunch of directors, they can’t cast you in every play.The best thing about working with people like Dubey and Sunil was that by default you do everything — sets, lights, sound operation, buying costumes and props. I think I was always interested in directing — I used to give suggestions which were accepted.

“Then Ramu Ramanathan gave me ‘Curfew’, which he said nobody else wanted to do. Sanjna Kapoor gave me a slot at the Prithvi Theatre Festival in 1999. The group, Working Title was born. I don’t like the name, but it stuck.”

How Jaimini Pathak found his place on stage

The Ramu-Jaimini collaboration lasted for years; he directed many of the playwrights works including ‘Combat’, ‘3’, ‘Sakina Manzil’, ‘Postcards From Bardoli’, and two of his longest running plays ‘Mahadevbhai’ (1892-1942) and ‘The Boy Who Stopped Smiling’, which are still on. “The working relationship with Ramu is very symbiotic,” says Jaimini. “There was a time when he would almost always write for me. ‘Combat’ was way ahead of its time, he predicted what is happening in the country today. ‘Mahadevbhai’ (based on the dairies and letters of Mahatma Gandhi’s secretary) was written because of what happened in Gujarat (Godhra incident and the riots).”

He prefers doing plays that have something to say, beyond the craft, and is always on the lookout for such work. “I have been reasonably prolific, most of my plays have done at least 40-50 shows, except a couple of star-crossed ones like ‘The Seagull’. The huge problem with doing a Chekhov play is that if an actor drops out, he cannot be replaced. I could spend all my time re-rehearsing, but it will never match up to the original vision. That’s why I leave the classics alone, and do new plays . If I am to do classics, I would like to make them my own. I like doing plays that stay with you for a long time, ideally for a lifetime. It is possible — I have people who watched ‘The Boy Who Stopped Smiling’ or ‘Once Upon A Tiger’ as kids and still remember them. If I am to do classics, I would like to make them my own. I would like to do a modern version of Tagore’s ‘Sanyasi’ or Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’. But how to find 12 actors? It’s sad when the logistics defeat you. It is difficult to make money on our kind of plays unless there is a tour. I always pay my team; I remember Manav Kaul, who did backstage for one of my plays in Pune saying that the Rs 500 I paid him was his first theatre ki kamaai (earning from theatre).”

The work he considers most precious, is with children and young people; before it became a trend for theatre practitioners to work with schools and colleges, Jaimini was involved with it. He wrote a lot of short plays for children, as well as one full-length play, ‘Once Upon A Tiger’, about wildlife conservation, which was funded by well known conservationist Bittu Sahgal. “I find it easier, or rather less intimidating to write for kids . I remember reading somewhere that children who do theatre in middle school, grow up to be less aggressive or have fewer anti-social tendencies. Hardly any plays are being written for children in India.”

Meanwhile, resisting the urge to run an assembly line production company, and rediscovering himself as an actor with web series, he continues to be energised by ‘Mahadevbhai’, which after 350 shows, still ticks all the boxes he looks for in an ideal production.

The writer is a critic and columnist

Corrections & Clarifications: This article has been edited for a factual error

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 8:41:35 AM |

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