The first time that I saw a single actor perform an hour long scene from a play all by himself in a manner as to keep the entire audience spell-bound was seventy years back when I was a student at the St. Patrick’s High School, Karachi. To the best of my recollection the performer was an able thespian from Ireland who played the role principally of Shylock in a powerful scene from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. The other minor roles in the presentation were also enacted by the same artist.
After that, in the past few years I have witnessed Shekhar Sen, an outstanding artiste from Mumbai, perform gripping musical dramas on the lives of Kabir and Tulsi and an enactment on Vivekananda, again all alone. Each one of these performances lasted over two hours. And apart from the moving script written by Shekhar Sen himself, the other remarkable feature of the Kabir and Tulsi shows was the melodious singing of Shekhar Sen. I may mention that both Shekhar’s mother and father were renowned classical singers.
Last weekend I had been invited to Bhopal to inaugurate the Natya Vidyalaya, Madhya Pradesh’s own School of Drama.
On this occasion also, I witnessed a stage performance where the credit list mentioned just one name, Anupam Kher, as ON STAGE. Of course, the OFF STAGE list carried a dozen names.
While the first such solo performance I had seen was based on a literary classic, and the next spell of such shows were of eminent historical personages, this Anupam Kher’s was autobiographical.
Titled Kuch bhi ho sakta hai, this two hour performance narrated the exciting struggles Anupam had to go through, ultimately to attain the heights he has now secured in Bollywood. Directed by Feroze Khan, the talented director who scripted and directed the play Mahatama versus Gandhi as also the film My father Gandhi, this show bore a lot of Anupam’s personal imprint of wit and humour, and this made the two hours show extremely engrossing and entertaining.
When in 1977 Prime Minister Morarji Desai included me in his Cabinet team, he asked me if I had any preference in respect of portfolio. My response was unhesitating: as a journalist myself I feel deeply about the assaults inflicted on the press, and on pressmen, during the Emergency and would like very much to contribute whatever I can to liberating the press, and breaking all the shackles imposed on the media.
I am grateful that Morarjibhai readily entrusted to me the Information and Broadcasting portfolio. This portfolio covers not just media, but Cinema also.
I have always been of the view that Hindi becoming the Official Language of India may be the contribution of the Constitution, but it is Bollywood that has made Hindi the Lingua Franca of our country which has scores of well developed languages, and thousands of dialects .
Personally speaking, I lived the first twenty years of my life in Karachi, Sindh. The only two languages I could read and write till 1947 were Sindhi and English. I was totally unfamiliar with Devanagri. I had read both Ramayana and Mahabharata in Sindhi, and later in English. If I could understand Hindi and even speak it somewhat, it was because of films.
I learnt to read and write Hindi only after 1947. So when I became I & B Minister in 1977, I became acutely conscious of the fact that the centres of Hindi film production were Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai. None of the Hindi states had a Hindi film industry.
I first saw a mini film city in Trivandrum, later in Mumbai and still later in Hyderabad. So I had occasion to remark in Bhopal last Saturday: Why can’t Bhopal have a film city?
The National School of Drama set up in New Delhi by Sangeet Natak Academy has contributed immensely towards providing talent to Bollywood. And Indian cinema today has acquired a high place even in world cinema. I am sure the initiative taken by Shivraj Singh and his Minister of Culture Laxmikant Sharma will further enrich the field, not only of theatre but also of cinema and television.
A galaxy of theatre celebrities led by Vijaya Mehta and including besides Prahlad Kakkar, Mahesh Dattani, Ram Gopal Bajaj, Arvind Trivedi and Piyush Mishra were present at this inaugural function.
The Mousetrap is a murder mystery by Agatha Christie. The Play opened in West End of London in 1952. When in 1972 as an MP, I visited London for the first time in my life the play was still running. I had read Agatha Christie’s book, I saw the play then.
For theatre – addicts, the significant information about this is that today, nearly 60 years after its premiere, the play is still running in London. It is now being shown at St. Martin’s Theatre and in these 58 years it has had over 24,000 performances. It is thus the longest running show of any kind in the history of British theatre.
20 June, 2011