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Theatre Unit is back

Late last year, theatre pioneer Satyadev Dubey passed away, leaving behind a strong legacy. Looking to continue that legacy is his protégé, theatre actor-director and light designer Hidayat Sami. Sami is reviving Dubey’s theatre group, Theatre Unit, under which Dubey performed many of his groundbreaking works.


A still from The Magic Pill, the English translation of Sambhog Ke Sanyas

With the initial ambition of becoming a cricketer, Dubey came to Mumbai from Bilaspur. After spending most of his time as the 13th man on the St Xavier’s College cricket team, he gave up this dream. In college, he met filmmaker Vijay Anand, who introduced him to theatre. Dubey soon came in contact with Ebrahim Alkazi, who later became the Director of the National School of Drama (NSD). Alkazi inducted Dubey into his group Theatre Unit. After the former left for Delhi, Dubey took over the reins.

In 1975 Dubey staged Sambhog Se Sanyas Tak a comedy that he had written about Gods, apsaras, evil kings and sages. Adding to the hilarity is a magic pill that can transform a man into a woman. Dubey also staged an English translation called The Magic Pill. It is this translation that Sami has taken up as the first production under the revived Theatre Unit.

Sami, whose previous directorial works include All About Women and Peter Pan, first worked with Dubey on the suggestion of Naseeruddin Shah. Sami says, “I started my career with the play Julius Caesar with Naseer. In 1992, he sent me to Dubey, saying he was a director doing interesting work. From then till 2011 I worked with Dubey. In these 20 years I have done lights for his plays, acted in them and even done workshops with him.” ¬†In fact it was Dubey who gave Sami the script for All About Women to direct.


Actors rehearse for the Magic Pill at Habitat Centre near Prithvi Theatre in Juhu on Friday evening. Pic/ Sayed Sameer Abedi

It was also Dubey who suggested to Sami that he continue Theatre Unit’s work. He encouraged Sami to take up the revival of the group after he saw him direct a large cast in the children’s play Peter Pan. Sami says, “Before Dubeyji passed away he was very keen I do Educating Rita (one of the English plays directed by an anti-English Dubey who later changed his stand on the language). I will direct it later this year. He saw me direct with a large cast and was keen on me directing his plays.”

For their first production, Sami, who acted in the original play, chose to stage The Magic Pill. Sami says, “The opportunity was offered by NCPA to do a comedy play. Dubey said all the rights were already with him and I should do the play. He said his in his fantastic style,” chuckles Sami. He has stayed true to the original text and edited it only to make it quicker. The Hindi version, Sambhog Se Sanyas Tak, is also on the cards.

Dubey was known to be foul-mouthed towards his actors but was also a great teacher. He laid specific emphasis on language and speech. Taking note of this, Sami too is paying special attention to speech while rehearsing with his cast that includes Joy Fernandes, Romi Jaspal, Shruti Vyas, Aadar Malik and Shailesh Hejmady. Sami says, “Speech is very important. All these things about character and motivation come after memorising lines.


Sanjeev Kashalkar, Nikita Shah and Mohan Bhandari in the 1975 production of the Hindi original Sambhog Se Sanyas Tak. PICs Courtesy/ Theatre Unit, sourced from the book Satyadev Dubey: A Fifty-Year Journey Through Theatre

Everything comes out of the lines. No actor can rise above the script.” Sami imbibed other directorial qualities from Dubey too. “In his later years he began to think very Spartan, very bare. He used props and sets to a minimum and concentrated on the acting,” he explains.

Sami says many might believe that the work of the revived Theatre Unit is not as good as Dubey’s . But surprisingly, these are not people who have worked with Dubey but others, who have no association with the late director.¬†Actors like Makrand Deshpande have been very encouraging of Sami. He says, “I’m not Dubey. I can never be him. A Dubey comes once in 100 years.”

Theatre Unit has the Dubey stamp on it and Sami plans on keeping that intact. He says that the group is a way of carrying forward everything that Dubey stood for and still stands for. “It will carry forward his views and beliefs,” says Sami.

The Magic Pill opens on June 24 at NCPA Experimental Theatre

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