Veteran actor Bharti Achrekar and pop diva Suneeta Rao return to the stage after over a decade in a comical play where music diffuses conflict
In a roomy Bandra apartment on a Tuesday afternoon, the table is laid with platters heaped with samosas and dhoklas in multiple flavours. Cups of coffee are being passed around. And ever so often, the dining table chatter segues into collective laughter. Where there are theatrewallahs, there is food and mirth, goes the saying in the community. And at this thespian meeting, there is no paucity of either.
What's unique about the gathering though is the sheer diversity of the artistes. There is Aseem Hattangady, who has worked in over 30 full-length plays in English, Hindi and Marathi, Ruturaj Shinde, known for his work in Marathi comedy, UK-born East Indian actor Danny Sura, and theatre artiste Zayn Marie Khan, who also happens to be Aamir Khan's niece.
Aseem Hattangady, Ruturaj Shinde, Zayn Marie Khan, Danny Sura
But at the forefront of this laugh riot are Bharti Achrekar and Suneeta Rao — two faces you couldn't have missed on Indian television in the late '80s, and '90s. And both, interestingly, are not just returning to the stage after more than a decade with the play Gaa Re Maa, but are also going to give the audience a glimpse of their lesser-known talents.
"Intrinsically, I have always felt I am an actor," says Rao, the pop singer known for her hit numbers including Pari Hoon Main and Kesariya, who portrays the role of a gospel singer and mother in the play. The other mother and Indian classical singer is played by Achrekar, the veteran actor who is synonymous with her role as Mrs Wagle in the much-loved slice-of-life show Wagle ki Duniya (1988).
Danny Sura with Bharti Achrekar and Suneeta Rao in a scene from the play Gaa Re Maa
Not many would know that Rao had been part of several musicals before her singing career took off. "Man of La Mancha opposite Dalip Tahil was the last play I did, and that was 2000," she adds. Not many would know that Achrekar, renowned vocalist Manik Varma's daughter, is a trained classical singer herself, too.
"There was a point in my life when the whole music industry had changed. Everything was going digital, the whole concept of albums was fading, and I wanted to do something different. All artistes must reinvent themselves in some way," Rao tells us, adding how she signed up for an acting workshop on a whim, and while she was brushing up her acting skills, she got a call from actor Ishita Arun, asking her if she wanted to be part of her first production that is a comical war of musical aspirations, personal tragedy and familial angst, where two women and their sons trying to find harmony in their lives.
Achrekar is no stranger to change herself. Having performed regularly in Marathi plays, she was getting increasingly miffed with the lack of original writing. The tectonic shift in the television industry has also left her disappointed. "Today, we shoot in the morning, and the show comes on air at night. How will you take care of the quality then? I am returning to theatre after 12 years. And there is no high like the high of theatre," she says, shushing the younger artistes with mock anger, only to listen in on the newest joke the next moment.
Back at the dining table, Ishita tells us how it was her mother Ila Arun's idea to cast Achrekar in the role of one of the mothers, who was the first actor to come on board. "Then began the eternal search for the second mother. It was my mum once again who said, 'You must think of Suneeta,' and everything fell into place," she says.
For the younger artistes, it's been a learning experience to work with veterans. Khan says, "It was intimidating at first because everyone had read the script more than I had," while for Shinde, Achrekar's natural acting skills gave him an insight into stagecraft.
The diversity of artistes that we notice in the beginning is corroborated by director Anahita Uberoi when she says, "The script drew me in because it was a story that celebrated differences. And it is something we need today. That's why we spent a lot of time on getting the casting right, so everyone came into the play naturally."
On January 12 (Sophia Bhabha Auditorium) and 13 (Bal Gandharva Auditorium), 7 pm
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