Shah VS Shaw

Sep 16, 2011, 10:51 IST | Priyanjali Ghose

Tonight Naseerudin Shah is back in town with his all time favourite Bernard Shaw play Arms & the Man

Tonight Naseerudin Shah is back in town  with his all time favourite Bernard Shaw play Arms & the Man

Decades ago actors Naseerudin Shah and Benjamin Gilani formed a list of plays they wanted to perform on stage when they founded the theatre group Motley.

Shah confesses that plays by Irish playwright Bernard Shaw topped this list. And tonight you can watch Motley's undying love for Shaw through the play Arms & the Man.

A scene from the play

Directed by Shah and staged by India Foundation for the Arts, a city-based non profit arts foundation, Shah has performed this play several times.

However, he shares that this time it is a brand new cast comprising popular theatre faces like Ratna Pathak Shah and Randeep Hooda among others.

What urges Shah to return  to Shaw repeatedly? "I studied this play in school. Shaw's plays are not lighthearted romances or situational comedies.

There are always several subtexts in his plays," he says.  Shah describes Arms & the Man as a satirical tale of love and war where Shaw depicts the brutalities of war and weaves in elements like cowardice and peculiarities of  the nouveau riche into a charming story.

Set during the Serbo-Bulgarian War in 1885-86, Arms & the Man shows what happens when Captain Bluntschli, a Serbian officer enters the bed chamber of Raina Petkoff, a young Bulgarian woman. Rain, who is engaged to war hero Major Sergius Saranoff, provides shelter to Bluntschli.
A relationship develops between Raina and Bluntschli while Seriguis returns from the war and falls for the maid Louka. Mocking the thin line between hollow romantic ideals and practical wisdom, Shah says that Arms & the Man brings out Shaw's world views.

Citing the paucity of strong modern Indian scripts also as a reason for Motley's inclination to classic plays, Shah disagrees with the common notion of Shaw being verbose. "Shaw is articulate and idolises the language. Just as MF Hussain loved colours, Shaw loved words.

Not to make his script sound verbose is the job of the actor," says Shah, who plays Raina's father Major Paul Petkoff. Shah describes the garden city audience as one of the most literate theatre audiences in India and hopes that they will enjoy watching Arms & the Man as much as Motley group enjoys performing it.

Where Chowdiah Memorial Hall, Malleswaram
On September 16, 7.30 pm
Call 23414681
For Rs 3,000, Rs 2,000, Rs 1,000, Rs 750 & R 500

Being Mrs Petkoff
"Playing various parts in this particular play has been an interesting journey. When I used to play Louka, I used to think that Mrs Petkoff may not be that interesting. But it was an eye-opener. It is fun to be Mrs Petkoff. All of Shaw's plays symbolise relevant contemporary ideas and have flesh and blood characters. If you manage to get into Mr Shaw's head and understand his style of writing, then no English will be difficult for you. It is a limitless pleasure," says Ratna Pathak Shah, who has played Louka in the previous production and will now play Mrs Petkoff.

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