Theatre

Shah of all stages

ALPHA ACTOR: Naseeruddin Shah is all praise for the city audience. Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.   | Photo Credit: Bhagya Prakash K

All the media is his stage, and he the alpha actor. There is a quality about the man, something that suggests an uncertainty in temperament which teamed with his expansive intellect made me feel like the kid awaiting his impending death in the hands of Gulfam in “Sarfarosh”.

Naseeruddin Shah could possibly be one of the most talented actors that the country has seen. His versatility as a performer has been stressed upon so many times that it has become a cliché. He was visiting the city with his “Motley” crew for another performance of “Antigone.”

The play has been cut and précised from the adaptation written by Jean Anouilh and while it is structurally not as complex as the original, the argument does tend to get a bit verbose. “The play has been shortened and director Satyadev Dubey has eliminated the superfluous characters. The change makes for better viewing,” Naseer says.

“Staging Antigone was originally Dubeyji's idea, and when he decides something, it gets done,” he says with a smile that in an instant transforms his face and gives it an impish charm. “It was a great challenge for all of us, because the drama is distilled into words.”

Naseer may be the “father” of thespians but he would never allow his confidence in his skill to rule his better judgment. “We rehearse for as long as it takes to get it right. It is vain to imagine a great piece of writing can be taken for granted.”

The crew rehearsed for a whole year for their renditions of “Julius Caesar” while “Waiting for Godot” took about a year to get down to pat. Bangalore was one of the first cities that “Antigone” came to, and the words of praise that Naseer had our city has given even the theatre illiterate a reason to gloat. “We have always enjoyed the Bangalore audience, and have had a long association with the city,” he said. Naseer said when Motley brought “Ismat Apa Ke Naam” to Bangalore it was with the apprehension of not being understood, considering the play was in Urdu. Bangalore, however, smoothly surmounted the language barrier.

“No two audiences are alike, and every night it's a new audience,” Naseer said, justifying the varying degrees of appreciation for a play.

While Naseer has reached a point in his career where he doesn't have to work at being taken seriously as a performer, he feels obligated to the newcomers. “I was one of them at one point of time and so it becomes my duty to give them a chance,” he says. Naseer says it is wrong to compare theatre and cinema. “The attention span of the audiences is decreasing and you cannot expect theatre to have the same audience. Cinema is a ready-to-eat meal while theatre prompts the audiences to think.” Popular theatre, however finds no favour with Naseer as he says: “Popular theatre is a slur on theatre.”

A modern classical version of the classic by Sophocles, “Antigone” pushes the envelope catering to a niche audience that can understand the nuances of a multifaceted Greek tragedy. “Most of these classics have become the syllabi for schools and while reading it is torturous, watching it is magic,” says Naseer.

Write stuff

“In the 70's there was a burst of play writing and while some clicked most of them lost their voice, trying to ape the West,” he says. The craft of playwriting has not evolved in our country, and Naseer has plans of conducting a seminar on the issue.

“It is a skill that takes time to hone and develop and there is no short cut. The playwrights in our country need to write in a speaking language and the main reason the 70's plays don't ring true anymore is because their language is stilted.”

When television started taking over the average Indian family, there were questions on the viability of theatre. Satyadev Dubey had told Shah, “In a few years people will return to theatre because of the bad quality of television programmes.” And so they have.


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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 4:28:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/Shah-of-all-stages/article16143579.ece

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