‘Why is theatre trying to create an illusion of cinema?’

Naseeruddin Shah speaks about his love for Manto, Faiz, and Ismat Chughtai.

Sher Khan December 05, 2012


The Faiz Ahmed Faiz trust organised a candid discussion with Bollywood’s seasoned actor Naseeruddin Shah at the Human Rights Commission auditorium on Tuesday evening. According to the organisers, it was the first time Shah had agreed to speak in Pakistan with the media in attendance.

Shah walked into the venue wearing rugged cargo pants and a jacket. He opened the discussion by talking about his love for performing arts.

“Why is theatre trying to create an illusion of cinema?” he asked. He explained that the defining identity of theatre can be expressed as a live person on stage. He feels that it is “essential to dispense with anything non-essential” in current times.

Shah’s love for theatre and dedication for the trade gave birth to Motley Productions, which he started with fellow actor Benjamin Gilani, in 1979. “When we started, I was living in a one-bedroom apartment,” he said. “The two of us were rehearsing continuously; but after we took the pains, the avenues opened up.”

In his play titled “Ismat Apa Ke Naam”, several socio-political themes were hatched. For Shah, his goal when it comes to theatre is to generally look out for the audience. “Social satire, pathos, and theatre were already present in Ismat apa’s writing. The only thing for me is to ensure that the performance is stimulating to watch,” said Shah. “So, I don’t focus on social commentary or politics.”

Shah said that his relationship with Indian writer Ismat Chughtai was personal, but that he developed an appreciation for her works after she had passed away. Chugtai wrote in Urdu with a fierce feminist ideology.

Shah reminisced about the first time he met her on the set of the 1979 film Junoon. “It was because of her that I was introduced to Manto, Faiz and other treasures of literature,” said Shah. “In our schools, we are exposed to Shakespeare and Keats and Woodsworth for poetry. It’s unfortunate that Faiz, Tagore and others were never taught.”

Shah believes that cinema spoon-feeds its audience, while theatre represents the real thing. “It won’t be the same if you bring Manto into cinema,” he said. “You will lose the beauty of the writing. You can’t make an honest film on ‘Toba Tek Singh’, but for theatre I want to possibly narrate — I am still building on the courage to do so.”

Although Shah has played Mirza Ghalib for a film of the same title, he doesn’t believe he can play the role of Faiz. “We have records of Faiz,” he explained, adding that there are details of Faiz’s dialogue delivery and expressions, making such a role much more challenging.

“The actor should remember how to serve the text, which may be a prickly ball for some,”

Shah said, explaining that an actor cannot be judged by how well he changes appearances, but by the ability to cater to the text. “I knew the only way I could become a good actor is by learning about it.”

His recent stint in Bollywood has launched a string of success even at this age with films like Ishqiya and The Dirty Picture. He says that his career has always been evolving. “I did a number of films from 1999 to 2012 that people have not even heard of! Still, my concentration with serious cinema has not withered,” he shared. “Every actor wants to eventually move to popular cinema, and if he says he doesn’t, then he is lying,” he said frankly.

Reacting to the television medium in India, he said that corporate and monetary interests had taken over. “There is nothing worthwhile on TV anymore. It is now basically there to make money,” he said. “Only someone of the stature of Aamir Khan was able to bring something meaningful to television,” he added, referring to the actor’s widely popular TV show “Satyamev Jayate”.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2012.            

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Rajesh | 7 years ago | Reply | Recommend

I used to love watching those meaningful movies in the 80s with some very talented actors like Naseruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Om Puri, Farooq Sheikh, Deepti Navel. Amol Palekar, Utpal Dutta and Directors like Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Sadly, those days are gone and Indian movies are commercialized to such an extent that they have stopped making art movies. The same recourse television has taken since 90s. We used to have some very amazing TV shows and they were gradually replaced by boring and meaningless soap operas of Ekta Kapoor.

Dasmir | 7 years ago | Reply | Recommend

Re Mubasshar Lucman Indian influence on Pak media. The anchor should read acculturation process in sciology book for better understanding.There is no point debating it on TV unless you understand the context.Indian Cinema is popular from Japan to California inlcuding west of Africa. Accept it and evolve rather than keep complaining. Mubassar Lucman you cant stop the tide of time.

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