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I don't allow myself to feel the pressure: Preeta Mathur

On theatre group Ank’s 39th anniversary, Preeta Mathur talks life and stage after Dinesh Thakur

You can’t take theatre out of stage artistes. When late theatre veteran Dinesh Thakur married fellow actor Preeta Mathur, 16 years his junior, in 1996 at his residence in a modest ceremony, they were up on stage that very evening for rehearsals.
On the 39th anniversary of their theatre group, Ank, on October 1, it’s going to be the same story. Two plays will be staged back to back — one a revived classic; another, fresh.

Jaat Hi Poochho Sadhu Ki, the Hindi translation of Vijay Tendulkar's Marathi drama, Pahije Jateeche, was directed by Thakur and opened on September 1 of 2012 at Prithvi. “We had two shows, but he passed away two weeks later,” says Mathur, when we meet her at her Lokhandwala apartment.

Preeta Mathur Thakur has helmed Ank Productions after Dinesh Thakur’s death in 2012.  PICS/ATUL KAMBLE
Preeta Mathur Thakur has helmed Ank Productions after Dinesh Thakur’s death in 2012.  Pics/Atul Kamble

Ank’s 81st production, Kaamiya, is based on a book written by Indian-American writer Kamla Kapur in the 1970s. It discusses women’s emancipation through Kaamiya, who decides to leave a husband who loves and supports her. Is she making the right call? “It begins where Henrik Ibsen’s Nora leaves off,” says Mathur, who plays Kaamiya. “Although set in the ’70s, the issues the story raises are still relevant.” Ram Gopal Bajaj, former director of the National School of Drama, translated the English novel into this Hindi stage adaptation, becoming one of three plays Ank launched after Thakur’s death. Interestingly, Thakur was a novice when he worked with Delhi’s Dishantar theatre group where Bajaj was his senior.

Although almost 10 of Ank’s old and well-loved plays continue to be staged (the group is just back from Dubai after having performed Jis Lahore Nahi Dekhya), Mathur says if Ank is to grow, they must break new ground. “We need to get out of our comfort zone, go where we haven't gone before. As individuals too, actors must grow. We are picking plays while keeping both aspects in mind,” she says.

But Mathur admits that getting new directors on board, in Thakurs absence, is a challenge. While Bajaj is a votary of putting up a play with two sets of actors in case a back-up is warranted, Thakur was dead against the idea. “He said actors wouldn’t give their 100 per cent if they had a back-up. But, the cast is adapting to new directors.”

Ank’s cast rehearses their upcoming play, Jaat Hi Poochho Sadhu Ki, which will be staged at Prithvi Theatre on October 2 in the 6 pm and  9 pm slots
Ank’s cast rehearses their upcoming play, Jaat Hi Poochho Sadhu Ki, which will be staged at Prithvi Theatre on October 2 in the 6 pm and 9 pm slots

Staging old plays isn’t hassle-free either. The audience, used to seeing Thakur play a particular role, hasn’t found it easy to accept a new actor in his shoes. But, Mathur says, “I don’t allow myself to feel the pressure. I offer my inputs on the character, and leave it to the actor to incorporate. Dineshji has set the tone for these characters, which has worked. We are trying to achieve it.”

That Mathur was gradually eased into production by Thakur in the last four years before his death, when he wasn’t keeping well, helped her get a grasp of things. “There are about six of us — all Dineshji’s students who have been together for long. We are well-versed with his vision. We usually divide key responsibilities among us,” she says.

But convincing an actor 10 years older to her, to tweak a nuance, requires tact. “Most actor have ego issues. Dineshji had the stature and authority that could easily extract from the actors what he wanted. He was also emotionally attached to his cast. Sometimes, his confidence in the actors made them go the extra mile. I am trying to build that faith,” says Mathur, who is planning to script and direct a play based on Kiran Nagarkar’s 1997 novel, Cuckold, set in Mewar of 17th century, where a king tries to win over his wife’s affections while his kingdom is ravaged by war.

“Unlike Dineshji, I sometimes need to convince my team to back me before I go ahead with a play. There lies the difference,” she says candidly, as she gets up to join the rehearsal.

Kaamiya
When: October 1, 6 pm and 9 pm
Where: Prithvi Theatre, 20 Janki Kutir Juhu Church Road
Entry: Rs 300
Call: 26149546

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