Reminiscing the story of Indian theatre from 1850s to 1990s, theatre veterans and enthusiasts gathered for the launch of Amal Allana’s book, The Act of Becoming- a century of Indian Theatre, on Friday evening. The book encapsulates the theatrical journey through the eyes of twenty-two critically acclaimed actors, who have talked about their lives, aspirations, their in-depth training and lasting stage careers.
Celebrating the role of actors, Govind Nihalani, the director of films like Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa and Ardhsatya, took the audience down the memory lane and shared his insights on actors he has worked with.
'I love my actors', declared Nihalani, in the first few minutes of his speech. But why? He explains, 'With a natural bias, being a director, I was intrigued to know why is Allan's book only about actors.' Debating it on his own, he came to a conclusion. Though a director and a playwright have a significant role in an act. It's the actor whom we all see on the stage. 'An actor is the one who creates meaning, magic and miracle on stage'. He hailed Allan's book for giving the center stage to the actor. In his perspective, 'It is a history and biography rolled into one, to get into the soul of an actor.'
With an anecdote from his second film Ardhsatya, he shared how the climax was decided by an unprepared dialogue between Smita Patil and Om Puri during one of the rehearsals. The gesture with which Smita takes up her hand but doesn't touch Puri was a defining moment towards the end of the movie. Nihalani cherishes that rehearsal that played on the instincts of a well trained theatre actor Om Puri and the untrained yet supremely talented Smita Patil. 'What I wanted was a gesture, but I didn't know how to end the scene, Smita's gesture did it for me,' added Nihalani.
In the words of his viewers and critics, Nihalani's work went through a shift from art cinema to mainstream with films like Dev and Thakshak. The director says that it's too simplistic an approach towards his work. He doesn't demarcate it that way. Even his first film Aakrosh, back in 90s had a song in it. How can a song and dance sequence change the genre of filmmaking?
On the sidelines, we asked Nihalani about his current projects. 'Going by the nature of my work, I have always been impacted by the social environment around me. That forms the base of my current project too. For now, this is all I can say about it,’ commented Nihalani.
Allana elaborated on her decade old research into Indian theatre and its background to put forth the evolution of modern Indian theatre, putting actors at the forefront. The stalwarts of Indian theatre who will make the readers walk through the corridors of history include Binodini Dasi, Bal Gandharva, Fida Husain, Zohra Segal, Utpal Dutt, Manohar Singh, Uttara Baokar, Naseerudin Shah, Heisnam Sabitri, and Maya Krishna Rao, among many others. Through a slideshow, she talked about the changing faces of Indian theatre along with excerpts from her book.