What's in a name?
A lyricist and theatre veteran's son come together for Makarand Deshpande's new play that tackles the prickly subject of religious minority identity
"This Hindu-Muslim issue is beyond politics; it's in our DNA," says an exasperated Sanju to his father Vinayak. When the words sink in, he is left dumbfounded. "Did my son just call me intolerant? Am I Islamophobic?" he asks himself. Moments later, Vinayak is seen reminiscing about his friend Saeed, for whom his grandmother would keep a bowl of sabudana khichdi on days she would fast because it was his favourite. That's a snapshot of Pitaji Please, where there is no black or white, but varying shades of grey. The new play by Makarand Deshpande, which the noted theatre director-actor calls one of his most important works, premieres this Saturday.
"The play's theme is what one is actively living as part of being an Indian — you are part of a society in a democratic country, but there is still tension between communities. Art is a by-product of life, and being a writer, I am responsible towards my lived experience," says Deshpande, who is also the playwright, between rehearsals at an Andheri venue.
While the script had been on his mind for a while, it took shape when he cast his lead actors — National Award-winning lyricist Swanand Kirkire plays the father, while the production marks the theatre debut of Zahan Kapoor, Prithvi Theatre trustee Kunal Kapoor's son. "I wrote the second act after I saw their chemistry. For me, the play always keeps evolving," Deshpande tells us, adding that he has been an admirer of Kirkire's work, while the decision to bring Kapoor on board emerged from their many conversations and script exchanges. In fact, the trio have also worked together in a promo video for Prithvi, which Kapoor directed.
"The plot has an urgency to it because the narrative in India at this time, is about dividing people. But politics derives these themes from life. So, no measures for political correctness have been taken in the play. It is not a generalised statement, but a very personal one; it makes you introspect, without blaming others," says Kirkire, whose narration of poems, shayari and couplets by maestros lends a lyrical, rhythmic, at times hilarious, touch to the play.
At the core of the plot is a lie intricately linked with the name of another key character, Swati. "Most of Mak Sir's plays are about human relations and emotions, which are universal. What gets in the way are all these labels and identities," says Kapoor, who interestingly, often finds a quizzical look on people's faces when they hear his name. "Such names are symbols of what India could be," says the young actor, who trained in London, and enjoys working on stage and before the camera equally. "I learnt to respect theatre because of Prithvi and the people who surround me. I was fortunate to watch Naseer Sir and Mak Sir and [learn from] their supreme commitment to theatre."
Though the play tackles the prickly issue of religious identities and the preconceived notions they come entwined with, the plot is a heart-warming one, with liberal doses of satire infused by the domestic help played by Madhuri Gawali. Dates, for instance, are good for health as long as Vinayak doesn't realise they are from Saudi Arabia, something Gawali's character points out matter-of-factly. Or that, Gangajal and Abe Zam Zam are imbued with the same emotions.
The play's underlying message, if it can be called so, is the inherent goodness of people. "It is difficult to look for goodness in others, and theatre as a craft needs to be used for that," says Deshpande. "When the lie in the plot is confronted, you realise it was born out of fear. When the lie gets dissolved, only the truth remains. And truth has the power to generate love. That's what Pitaji Please is all about."
On May 19, 9 pm
At Prithvi Theatre, Juhu.
Log on to bookmyshow.com
Entry Rs 400
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