Following in his dad’s footsteps: Imaad Shah turns director

The scion of the first family of Indian theatre is busy putting together his own play, and we were there at the rehearsals!

brunch Updated: Nov 08, 2017 21:47 IST
Ananya Ghosh
Ananya Ghosh
Hindustan Times
Imaad Shah,Bertolt Brecht,The Threepenny Opera
Imaad Shah intends to take up directing full time (Aalok Soni )

It was an otherwise mundane afternoon at Yashwant Rao Chavan Auditorium in Matunga. But as soon as we entered the theatre we were greeted by a bunch of rambunctious actors singing on the stage. The entire auditorium was throbbing with various activities. A young man in red T-shirt and cargo pants and a headful of unruly curls was standing on the floor of the auditorium with his eyes pierced on the goings on. The song over, he calls the actors and asks for minor tweaks, his voice low, calm, but confident.

Bertolt Brecht adapted The Threepenny Opera from John Gay’s 18th-century English ballad opera, The Beggar’s Opera (Aalok Soni)

For Imaad Shah, the firstborn of Ratna Pathak and Naseeruddin Shah, theatre has been an integral part of his life. “My earliest memory of being active on stage is of rehearsing Julius Caesar. It was almost always incredibly chaotic backstage and the play was elaborate with crowd scenes, etc. It was quite a crazy but at the same time I got introduced to the ground realities of a theatre production and more importantly, the importance of teamwork. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of sitting backstage watching the goings on,” he says.

The Mack the Knife song was later made popular by singers like Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, among others (Aalok Soni)

Although he belongs to the first family of Indian theatre and had made his acting debut on stage at the age on 9, today is different. The 30-year-old, who looks like a doppelganger of young Naseer, is turning a director with Bertolt Brecht’s raucous musical The Threepenny Opera, and the expectations are huge.

The Threepenny Opera is one of the early examples of Brecht’s experimentation with ‘epic theater’-- a theatrical movement that developed in the mid-20th century as a response to the political climate of the time with the aim to educate the audience rather than to simply entertain them (Aalok Soni)

But Imaad says that the greater challenge was to do justice to such a legendary play. “It has been a great learning curve and one of the things I’ve discovered is that I love leading and working with talented people. I love bringing out the best in people,” says the part-time actor and full-time musician who is one half of Indian electronic music band Madboy/Mink. “From here on, I’m a full time director. I’ve directed a short film, which will be done early next year and I’ve been working on a couple of scripts that I want to make into films very soon. Once this play opens and takes on a life of its own, that process will begin,” he reveals.

Working with the composer, Kurt Weill, Brecht fashioned the ‘opera’ more along the lines the Berlin cabaret rather than getting influenced by the legacy of Mozart or Wagner (Aalok Soni)

He adds that his experiences as a musician and as an actor have helped him develop as a director. “In fact, my first interactions with the play were definitely through the music. As I kept discovering the play, I realised how much it is relevant even today. The play deals with the vast differences in the lives of the extremely rich and the extremely poor in a very interesting way..” However, he has purposefully decided not adapted it to an Indian context. “The original setting allows us to play with the absurd and be scathing about certain things.”

Imaad has already directed a short film, which will be out early next year and is working on a couple of film scripts as well. “Once this play opens and takes on a life of its own, that process will begin,” he smiles.

The play starts with a knife-wielding criminal, Macheath a.k.a Mack the Knife, returning to London and setting his eyes on Polly Peachum, the daughter of who is the boss of the ‘begging industry’ (Aalok Soni)

The play is premiering this Friday at Mumbai’s St. Andrew’s Auditorium, and cast of the includes, Arunoday Singh as the London gangster Mack the Knife; Bugs Bhargava as the king of the beggars, Jonathan Peachum; Meher Mistry as Celia, Peachum’s wife, and Saba Azad, the other half of Madboy/Mink, as Polly, Mackie’s lover and the daughter of the Peachums.

The play deals with London’s underbelly replete with choicest of amoral characters and we have gangsters and beggars and prostitutes taking on each other (Aalok Soni)

It is produced by Motley, a theatre group was started by Naseeruddin Shah, Benjamin Gilani, Tom Alter and Ratna Pathak in 1979. Not surprising then that the entire Shah family is present at the rehearsals. While Ratna is hands-on with the props and costumes, his half-sister Heeba is busy coordinating backstage activities, and Naseer is keeping a hawk’s eye on the entire goings on. Also present is his kid brother Vivaan, who is playing a minor character in the play. Although each one is busy doing their bit to perfection, today Imaad’s is the last word.

Although set in Victorian England, the tone of The Threepenny Opera reflects the socio-political climate of Germany just a few years before Hitler’s ascendancy (Aalok Soni)

He points out that although at times he turns to his parents for advice and opinions, but at the end of the day one needs to formulate his/her own strategies, processes and ways of tackling challenges. “However when the performance is for one of our own plays, of course everyone climbs onto the boat and we all love pointing stuff out to each other!” he is quick to add.

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First Published: Nov 08, 2017 21:29 IST