I trust my audience: Salim Arif

If one was to name some of the best Hindi theatre plays of the last 10 years or so, names like Kharaashein, Hum Safar, Aapki Soniya, Ghalibnaama and Kachche Lamhe are bound to come up. And it is productions like these that make Salim Arif one of the most talented directors in Hindi theatre today. He’s received numerous awards and recognitions and was recently conferred the Hindi Sewa Samman by the Vishwa Hindi Akademy. “It feels great to know that your work is being recognised. In the larger context, the awareness that Hindi theatre is thriving in Mumbai has led to this award,” says Arif. But for the theatre personality, there’s another recognition that he cherishes as much as he cherishes the other awards. “There’s a book of stories by Gulzarsaab, Deodhi, which he dedicated to me, not once but thrice. To have an entire storybook written by one of the topmost writers of the country dedicated to me, is a huge honour,” says Arif. Excerpts from an interview: 

Salim Arif believes it’s a great time for Hindi theatre in the city

Hindi theatre is thriving
I think it’s a good time for Hindi theatre in Mumbai. Increasingly, the best of Hindi theatre is happening in the city. Look at the quality of talent that has come in the last 10 years, the content and the quality of performers. The good thing is that all those people who trained at National School of Drama, after settling down in films and television, have either not left theatre or are coming back to it. When I started 12-13 years back, there were very few Hindi theatre groups. It’s so good to see people who graduated with me or after me from NSD coming back to theatre so regularly. I think that’s what we need, and that’s the ideal situation. Hindi theatre in Mumbai is a very good example of how well theatre is doing in the country.

Sonali Bendre and Farooque Shaikh play daughter and father in Aapki Soniya

Favourite plays
Kharaashein remains one of my favourite plays. It was the first of its kind in terms of its format. For the first time, poetry and stories were woven together into a stage presentation, which had dramatic potential. In earlier productions, people have used poetry but this was the first time we thought of reciting it and combining it with a story, and as preludes to the main story. Kachhche Lamhe by Javed Siddiqi is also a favourite. I want to revive Atthanniyaan now, as a musical. Apart from one or two productions, all the 10-12 plays we have done so far, have been an enriching experience for all of us.

Yashpal Sharma and Lubna Salim in Atthanniyaan

The Gulzar connect
There is hardly a play of mine where Gulzarsaab is not involved. It’s either his story that we stage or his poetry finds its way in stories written by Javed Siddiqi. That way, he’s been a constant anchor. It’s a matter of trust and also comfort between us. He knows I’m sensitive to what he writes and I’m sensitive to his intention. It’s the trust that if I want to change something, which I do with his permission, it will have some merit. But to me, the writers remain the bosses. The final approval has to come from them. It’s been an interesting collaboration with writers like Gulzarsaab and Javedsaab, because apart from two plays Ashadh Ka Ek Din and Taj Mahal Ka Tender, all plays have been scripted for the first time for us to stage. People often ask me why I’m stuck with Gulzarsaab. Because of the relationship I share with him, I can discuss the stories and enhance some stories with his permission, which won’t be the case if I do plays with other writers. It’s like creating a film script or a song. It’s a very creatively enriching experience for me.

Trust the audience
I never underestimate the intelligence of the audience. So I have never felt the need to explain my plays through brochures. I have complete trust on my audience. I know they will come and see everything with an open mind. The brochures become a guideline to understanding the play. I think in a shared experience, there should be something left for the audience to savour and enjoy, rather than limiting their experience.  

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