He calls himself an autobiographical filmmaker. And a few of Mahesh Bhatt’s works, including Arth (1982) and Daddy (1989), have recently been adapted into plays. As his latest screenplay, Hamari Adhuri Kahani (HAK), gears up for its stage version, we meet the director in his office in Khar (Mumbai), where he tells us what took him so long to venture into theatre, and more.
How is the medium of theatre different from cinema?
I feel the medium of theatre, in general, is the most important one in the times we live in. Today, conformity has become the rule. The opposite of courage is not cowardice; it is conformity. People are petrified of alternate views. In such a time, theatre has been a vehicle, which has always articulated the views of the marginalised. Cinema, being a mass medium, caters to the majoritarian taste, as it seeks acceptance. Theatre doesn’t give a damn. I discovered the power of theatre after my romance with cinema.
When did you decide to adapt the screenplay of HAK to a play?
Before the release of the film, along with writer Suhrita Sengupta, I had written the novel, All That Could Have Been. The book is based on the film’s script. After it was written, Imran (Zahid; who has acted in the stage versions of Arth and Daddy) suggested adapting the book into a play. I thought if the source material can be adapted to other forms, why not give it a try? I am definitely the marketable flagship associated with the project (laughs), but a major chunk of the credit should rightly go to Suhrita and Imran.
You have sung the title song of the play (it will be staged on December 26, at Tata Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point). How did that happen?
I was conned into singing by Pooja (Bhatt; daughter). She had heard me sing the title track of Hamari Adhuri Kahani during one of our recording sessions. Pooja recorded that, and when she shared that with people, they went gaga, saying, “Your father sings really well.” I reluctantly conceded that I do (laughs). She wanted it to be added to the play. One fine day, I was physically lifted from my office, and taken to a recording studio, and I was pushed in front of a mic. I sang my heart out a few times, and some people liked it very much. But I feel I will be contaminating the space.
Why did it take you so long to venture into theatre?
I never had the desire to be anywhere close to theatre. But then, conformity and mediocrity took the soul away from Indian cinema. And you always stumble on to good things in life. Then The Last Salute (his first play) happened. And I knew I could never make a film out of such a story.
Satyadev Dubey (theatre director) wrote the dialogue of your first film, Manzilein Aur Bhi Hain (1974). Tell us about the bond you share with him?
He has had a major influence in my life. He was a maverick and an unusual guy. He was glorified only after his demise. Suddenly, people realised how great he was. The kind of work he did has touched many lives, and that counts.
Do you plan to direct or write solely for theatre?
No, I don’t think I have the skills. Theatre is a completely different discipline. I can understand it and marvel at it, but I can’t direct. It requires a different kind of grammar. I don’t watch a lot of plays, but I read a lot. I watched my wife’s (Soni Razdan; actor) play, Where Did I Leave My Purdah? My wife is a very good actor. I marvel at how she remembers all the lines.
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