“Every night I think of a new story,” muses Saif Hyder Hasan, the prolific writer-director who has given a new lease of life to Hindustani commercial theatre with popular plays such as Ek Mulaqat, Gardish Main Hain Taare and Mr and Mrs Mungerilal. “ Usually, I forget it by morning, but if it stays with me for two-three months, then I start writing. There are so many things happening around us, what sticks, makes it to the stage.”
This weekend he is trying something new with an English solo, Mirror Mirror that marks the entry of actor Minissha Lamba on stage. The original story about sibling rivalry has been with him for quite sometime now. “In 2011, I mounted it in Hindi with Shweta Tiwari in the lead. I want to give my audience good value for money. There should be a gripping storyline backed by good lighting, sets and music. And a popular actor who can pull audience to the theatre. The package should be very interesting.” Perhaps, this is the new definition of commercial theatre. “I don’t know what commercial theatre is? If I am paying ₹75000 as the rent for an auditorium, who is going to recover this money? Gone are the days when we staged plays at Shri Ram Centre’s basement by booking it for ₹1200 rupees. It used to take ₹25000 to mount a production. Now it requires a sum in multiplication of six figures. The way things are, everything has become commercial.” And that demands an actor, who can attract people to ticket window? “Yes, an actor who has some following. What’s wrong in it? You are getting a bigger crowd and in the process you are converting more people to theatre.” Many feel it is a compromise, for there was a time when theatre used to guide the market. Now it is the other way round. “When you are very honest to your art form, you are not compromising. Ek Mulaqat is not a compromise . And I feel Mirror Mirror will also live up to the expectations.”
But, Ek Mulaqat has Shekhar Suman, who is a product of theatre. “You forget, it also has Deepti Naval. She made her debut with the play,” he counters. “Similarly, I introduced Arif Zakaria with Gardish Main Hain Taare . These are actors who are coming from different idioms. It is a time when Saif Ali Khan has just attempted a web series. This is the time for creative cross pollination,” avers Saif, wondering whether he has come up with a punchline.
In Minissha, he has found a good student. “See, learning and unlearning is a creative process. At the end of the day, theatre is a like one long shot. Cinema is about close-ups, here you have to project your voice.” Can it be learnt? “Of course. If you are a good actor, you can adapt easily. It is like if you know how to ride a cycle, you can easily drive a scooter.” But it seems, nowadays those who have driven cars are being expected to ride a cycle? Saif says driving a four-wheeler can’t be compared to riding a two-wheeler. “The point is a good actor is a good actor, whatever be the medium.” He reminds how theatre has a huge influence on cinema. “A lot of time is given to each shot and there are rehearsals. A lot of nurturing happens during workshops. These are the creative ethics of theatre.” A story of identical twins, Saif says it is different from his previous work. “They were poetic, set in a different era. This is very urbane, contemporary and in English. So please don’t come with the expectation that isme sher-o-shayari hogi.” Meanwhile, Ek Mulaqat has completed 80 shows, and it’s time Saif share his takeaway. “The play is largely in Urdu and Punjabi, two languages young urban people are not too familiar with. It proves the play speaks the universal language of love.”
(Produced by AGP World, “Mirror Mirror” will be staged this Saturday at Kamani Auditorium, 8 p.m.)
Game for the test
“I jumped off the cliff,” gushes Minissha Lamba as she describes her instant decision to accept a play where she is essaying 13 characters. “I committed after the first narration itself because had I gone home and pondered over it, I would have said no.” In theatre, she discovered, the energy that is required is humongous. “In films, there is a lot of subtlety because you are close to the viewing audience. Having said that, we didn’t want to make the performance ‘theatrical’ or one-note. As the entire play is told through her, I have to ensure that the characters don’t meld into each other. So even when I raise the pitch, I try to bring out the nuances of each character. It is a thin line and all the preparations notwithstanding, the real test will be in front of the ticketed audience,” says the Delhi girl, eager to know the reaction of the home crowd.
Reflecting on her preparation, Minissha says, “I took the longest time to mug up my lines. It has always been the case with me. I take time to memorise my dialogues in films as well. What pulled me to the play was the complexity of the protagonist, Minal. I wanted to know just what is going on in her head. She is very strong headed. She is a woman who has achieved a lot but her choices take her down a dark path. It is partly psychological and the circumstances that she has created for herself.”
Minissha doesn’t identify with Minal. “It is not necessary for actors to identify with characters that they play. Because in that case they will be playing themselves. The challenge is in displaying the emotional turmoil that you haven’t gone through. I tried different things and waited for the response of the team. In films, I usually rush to the monitor to watch the take and then offer more variations to the director even if he is pleased with the first one.” In films, the recorded shot is stored for posterity but in theatre there is an opportunity to improvise in every performance. “Possibly, it is going to be the case. That’s different thrill,” she exults. Looking back at her film career, Minissha says, “There were hits and misses, and there were some unbelievable misses as well. That’s how this profession is!”