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Tuesday, Dec 10, 2019

English theatre has a better ground in Mumbai: Nadira Babbar

brunch Updated: Oct 07, 2016 18:36 IST
(Pratham Gokhale/HT PHOTO)

As Ekjute, one of Mumbai’s leading Hindi theatre groups turns 35, we catch up with the reticent yet warm matriarch of the group, Nadira Zaheer Babbar in between rehearsals at Prithvi Theatre. After carefully dabbing some kajal and compact powder for the camera, she sits down for a brief chat.

You are a gold medalist from National School of Drama. Why didn’t you join one of the existing groups?

Today there are hundreds of options available to the actors. There is cinema, television,and theatre groups are mushrooming at every corner. But in those days it was not this easy to get work as an actor. There was hardly any money. And this was the only work I knew!

I used to work with a group in Delhi. But when I came to Bombay, it didn’t work out as most established groups had their own of set of regular actors. Hume koi poochta nahi tha. When people who were working with us in Delhi-- like Raja Bundela, Satish Kaushik, Rajesh Puri—also relocated to Bombay, we decided to have a formal group and that is how Ekjute was born.

What was the first play that you staged?

We opened with Yahudi Ki Ladki, it was not a new play as I had staged it in Delhi as well. I chose it as I wanted to do something stylised. The reaction we got from the audience and the press was overwhelming. We got great reviews.

How were the initial days?

When we started off in 1981, Prithvi Theatre was a new venue and had hardly any takers. There weren’t many Hindi theatre groups that performed at Prithvi. We had a very big support at Prithvi Theatre in Jennifer Kapoor. She was very encouraging. The Prithvi House was then just a small house and Prithivraj Kapoor used to live there. He had given the first floor to us to rehearse. Even the theatre floor was open to rehearsals.

How has the scene changed over the years?

The audience is more evolved and knowledgeable. They understand theatre. As for the actors, today there are far more options available. But most people today are doing plays in English. Hindi theatre is still languishing. If we didn’t have the support of Prithvi, it would have been really difficult for us to survive. We can’t afford big venues like Rangsharda unless we start doing frivolous sex comedies.

So, you think English theatre groups have a better chance of surviving in today’s context…

English theatre definitely has a better ground in Mumbai. It is sad that although Hindi has the distinction of being our national language, there are hardly any takers of plays in the language. Even regional theatres have better prospect. And that is because they have nurtured their folk forms. Look at Marathi Tamasha or Gujrati Bhawai or Bengali Jatra-- these art forms are not only alive but even the younger generations are taking to these.

With so many theatre groups mushrooming, do you think the quality of the productions are suffering?

No, I don’t think so. Ache, bure kaam karte rehne se hi toh phir finally acha kaam hoga. Everybody can’t be very good from the start. People need time to evolve, to grow. There will be mistakes on the way.

Even with us, after so many years, there are times when an idea, which we think is brilliant, doesn’t work with the audience. And sometimes the opposite happens. Bombay Meri Jaan was an idea that was not working out at all. But today it is one of our most popular and profound plays.

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