Curtain call: The moment all my world was a stage

Writer talks about the play ‘The Kite Runner’ where he acted on the stage and remember the moments being hugged by director, friends, family, and a few strangers too
Amir, played by Nipun Dharmadhikari and Soraya, played by Muskkaan Jaferi, in a scene from ‘The Kite Runner’. (HT)
Amir, played by Nipun Dharmadhikari and Soraya, played by Muskkaan Jaferi, in a scene from ‘The Kite Runner’. (HT)
Published on Sep 12, 2021 05:21 PM IST
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By Nipun Dharmadhikari

The play ‘The Kite Runner’ was around the corner. It was set to open on August 31, 2019, at the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre of the National Centre of Performing Arts at Nariman Point, Mumbai.

We had our grand rehearsal at the venue for a few days before the actual show, so we were all accustomed to that venue. The play was shaping up nicely.

I was acting in it and the director, Akarsh Khurrana, had considered me to be a good fit for the role of the protagonist – Amir. While I was happy to be a part of it, it was also daunting as the protagonist was also the narrator of the play and, without exaggeration, had more than fifty per cent of the total dialogues.

That was not all. The play also boasted a stellar cast which included veterans like Akash Khurrana and Kumud Mishra. While it was already a task to memorise so many lines, there was additional pressure to perform with such seasoned actors.

Of course, the previous line will be followed by a cliché of how supportive they were, but I can’t help it, because they really were!

There were multiple locations in the play, ranging from Amir’s sprawling house in Kabul, his favourite spot with his friend Hassan on top of a hill, the streets of Kabul, an empty oil tanker, a flea market in San Francisco, their home in America, and different locations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. When I read it, I had no idea how the director and the set designer were planning to pull it off.

They made a permanent set structure which resembled large rocks and then used smaller, portable set elements to turn them into something else. A large cloth with an Arabic design was also hung on both sides, from the top. It added a certain aesthetic to the overall visual.

So a large rock became the hill in Kabul, it was also a terrace café on the streets on Kabul. It became a part of the beach on San Francisco just by adding the sound of waves and sea gulls. A smaller rock became a stall in the flea market when some items were kept on it. It was the same rock that was also a bed when Akash sir slept on it with his robe on.

And it just worked. Because the director made us believe that a set element served a particular purpose. And since we believed in it, the audience believed in it too. It also depicted the ruins Kabul was in, in the latter half of the play.

Light design by Quasar Thakore Padamsee was another highlight. It would have been easy for any other light designer to make use of multiple colour shades to highlight the serious situations in the play. But Quasar followed the subtlety in the script and with the use of soft, dim, yellow and amber lights he set a visual mood. There were a few scenes which had a bit of humour and romance and the lights were a little brighter then. I couldn’t experience the visuals myself, of course, but I could imagine what it must have looked like. And the audience reactions after the show confirmed that.

It was the first play of mine which was so heavily publicised. It was one of the plays curated for ‘Aadyam’, a theatre initiative by the Birla Group. Every year, five full length plays are produced and funded by ‘Aadyam’ and they organise nine shows at venues in Mumbai and New Delhi. Billboards were put up all over Mumbai! Articles were being written. And this just amped up the nervousness.

On the day of our first show I remember travelling to the venue in a cab, not looking anywhere else. I couldn’t get myself to look at the multiple messages from friends wishing me good luck. A few of them were on their way from Pune just for the show. All shows had been sold out the moment tickets went online and I had hoped against hope that my friends and family wouldn’t get tickets. They still managed to get them and I had no choice now but to perform in front of them.

Just before the third bell, there was a small red light in the wings. I kept looking at that, trying to focus. Akarsh had decided to keep the curtain open from the beginning, making the audience familiar with the set as soon as they entered. The third bell rang and I entered the stage. I started my lines on the music cue and I don’t remember much of what happened for two hours after that. I suppose it went well, because I remember being hugged by my director, friends, family, and a few strangers too.

I remember shaking Mr. Birla’s hand. (He came for two more shows after that, one in Delhi. So I can safely say that he liked it.) The next shows were a breeze too, with similar reactions.

The shows of this production were on hold till we got the schedule of the huge cast in order and then the pandemic struck, making the possibility of future shows bleaker. While I would love for more and more people to see this, I cannot emphasise enough the wonders it has done to my confidence as an actor and as a person. It will remain one of the most important plays of my life.

Nipun Dharmadhikari is a storyteller and looks forward to telling them on stage, in front of the camera or in person.

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Saturday, October 23, 2021