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Mahesh Bhatt to debut on stage; another play explores the SRK phenomenon

Mahesh Bhatt has an open letter for ex-US president George W Bush. Three aspiring directors want to take the Shah Rukh Khan route. Over this weekend and the next, two plays with interesting, realistic premises will give Mumbai's audiences much to look forward to

The Last Salute: 'My letter talks about the power-hungry US President'
"What is happening in Brussels today, as we speak, is the aftershock to what Bush did in Iraq in 2003. They opened a can of worms and the world is still suffering because of it," said an angry Mahesh Bhatt over the phone lines, when we called the film director on his stage debut. Bhatt's play, The Last Salute is based on Iraqi journalist Muntadhar Al-Zaidi's book, The Last Salute to President Bush and narrates the series of events that led to the scribe hurling shoes at former US president George W Bush.

Also read: Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt's life to premiere on stage in Mumbai

A still from Mahesh Bhatt’s Hindi play, The Last Salute
A still from Mahesh Bhatt’s Hindi play, The Last Salute

The play looks at events of the Gulf crisis and the US intervention. "To me, the action of Muntadhar stands alongside the actions of Gandhi, Tolstoy, Martin Luther King Junior and many lesser known courageous dissenters, who raised their voice against colonialism, tyranny, oppression and injustice. The world media has been shamefully negligent in reporting the effect of the so-called 'just' war on the civilian population of Iraq. The blood bath was not reported at all. The incident of shoe throwing made the world aware of the situation in Iraq and that coverage of this had been restricted by the American governement," says Bhatt.

The play begins with Bhatt reading out a letter he wrote to the White House in 2002. "I was invited by a senator friend to attend a breakfast prayer meeting in Washington DC. Being aware of the hypocrisy of American politics, I declined. Today that decision seems appropriate...

... My letter talks about the power-hungry US President who planned the cold-blooded attacks on Baghdad. I read the letter out in the play to set the tone and for the audience to get a glimpse of the events they witness in the play," shares Bhatt.

A still from the Last Salute
A still from the Last Salute

The 80-minute play, with a cast of 85 actors, is scripted by Rajesh Kumar and directed by the veteran theatre director and activist Arvind Gaur. "It is an universal topic and the idea of theatre is not just to entertain.

It is a powerful medium and should be used to create awareness amongst people and encourage debate and dialogue or at least, present a point of view and make people think," asserts Gaur. The music of the play, composed by Dr Sangeeta Gaur, includes various genres but the songs are based on a theme of patriotism.

Mahesh Bhatt at Rajghat
Mahesh Bhatt at Rajghat

"Muntadhar Al-Zaidi is a man of peace. He became a victim of the tyranny of Saddam Hussain and George W Bush. He is one of those few individuals who had the courage to stare unflinchingly into the eyes of death when he hurled his shoe at Bush. People like stories where the common man stands up to tyranny.

To me, the defining image of courage of the last century was the solitary Chinese man standing defiantly against the oppressive row of tanks in Tiananmen Square. And now, in the 21st century, it is the image of Muntadhar Al-Zaidi, hurling a shoe at President Bush," concludes Bhatt.

On March 27, 7.30 pm
At Rangsharda Auditorium , Bandra (W)
Call 26401919

Codename SRK: 'We hope King Khan watches the play'
Do you want to kill Shah Rukh Khan? A man smiles incredulously, another is irritated and spits paan, a woman declares she would kill anyone who will try to, and another slaps the interviewer. This absurd prank, uploaded six months ago, had a larger purpose. The team of Mad About Drama (MAD) wanted to feel the impact of Shah Rukh Khan on the streets of Kolkata and launch a teaser for their play Codename SRK, about three young Bengali filmmakers, whose struggles seem mostly fruitless until some events take place and their lives are entwined closely with Khan's trails.

A still from Mahesh Bhatt’s Hindi play, The Last Salute;  Mad About Drama attempted Bengali titles for Shah Rukh Khan movies to promote their play and came up with witty remakes. Maya Memsaab became Maya Boudi (sister-in-law) and Deewana (1992) turns Paglu (crackpot)
Mad About Drama attempted Bengali titles for Shah Rukh Khan movies to promote their play and came up with witty remakes. Maya Memsaab became Maya Boudi (sister-in-law) and Deewana (1992) turns Paglu (crackpot)

Also read: A young theatre group wants you to experience the difference between Kolkata and Calcutta

The idea, says Soumendra Bhattacharya, the founder of MAD, came about when they were planning to stage a comedy after their first play, With Love, Calcutta and Aritra Sengupta in the group came up with a script. "Shah Rukh Khan represents the epitome of success in Bollywood. For any outsider in the industry, Shah Rukh Khan will always be an inspiration. Without any connections in the industry, he came from outside and is now the Badshah of Bollywood. And so the idea worked for us," he explains.

Stills from an earlier performance
Stills from an earlier performance

He, however, clarifies that the play is neither a tribute to Khan nor about him but has more to do with the phenomenon and the impact of the star. The story is set in Mumbai, where the three strugglers have rents pending for months. They are trying their best to pitch their dream project, a screenplay about two young poets who want to kill Rabindranath Tagore because for them Tagore represents the mainstream that will never let them grow. To make ends meet, they act in water purifier ads, direct an advertisement for a herbal oil which cures erectile dysfunction and act in a B-grade erotica called Nagleela.

Also read: A slice of Kolkata in Mumbai

Bhattacharya asserts that Mumbai is where this play belongs. "It is set in the city and has nuances that Mumbaikars will connect to. The city has always been pleasant and inspiring," he feels. Though he asserts that the film is not a tribute to Khan or his celebration, he nurtures a wish that the Bollyood star watches the play.
"We have been trying to get King Khan's attention for more than a year now, but with fail. So we wanted to kill him. (in the teaser) Just kidding. We hope he drops in, in disguise, or we might just freeze on stage, or maybe not," he signs off.

On April 1 and 2, 4pm, 8pm
At Prabodhankar Thackeray Auditorium, Borivali (W).
Log on to bookmyshow.com/mumbai/plays/codename-srk/ET00040140

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