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|April 3, 2000|
Naseer, Jaya prove serious theater can be fun
R S Shankar
While the likes of Shah Rukh Khan or Salman Khan can send an arena of some 5,000 fans soaring and make big bucks for the promoters of the mega shows, promoters also find that serious dramas with big name character actors can also be a big draw. Though they say there is not much profit to be made by such shows, they are happy to boast their taste is eclectic and they are also promoting theater.
Last year Paresh Rawal's portrayal of Nathuram Godse in Gandhi/Godse brought him standing ovations in more than 12 cities. In all, there were about 25 performances.
When the play was staged in a few cities without Rawal, it was an instant flop.
"Some people might have gone to see it because of their admiration for Godse, some just out of curiosity," notes Suprotim Bose, short filmmaker. "But most people were spending $ 20 on individual tickets because they wanted to watch live a dynamic actor."
Also last year, Jaya Bachchan also proved to be a big draw in Maa Retire Hoti Hai. Director Ramesh Talwar had told rediff.com last year that he thought it was prudent to open the show in North America than in India.
"NRIs give their hearts to visiting artists," Talwar had said. "They truly appreciate our efforts. They are never over-critical -- and often their constructive criticism helps us to improve a show as we go along."
Talwar will know if the affection and encouragement is still there. He is coming with Jaya Bachchan with a new show, Dr Mamta, that is going to be around for nearly two months and will play in more than a dozen cities.
But the current rage is Khel, which stars Naseeruddin Shah and Paresh Rawal. Heavily advertised in the print and electronic media as a comedy thriller, it has sold out in several cities, and there are persistent demands that more shows be added. In New York, over 1,100 people applauded the show. The organizers estimate over 2000 people could have watched the show on the opening night had the play performed elsewhere. Khel is scheduled to play in 18 cities but if the current response is any indication, it could add on not only cities but also performances.
Khel is based on the hit play of the 1970s, Sleuth, which was made into a hit movie. For the fans of Shah and Rawal, its origin does not matter.
"I would rather see a first rate play than see a Shah Rukh show where, for a significant part, junior artists are using the stage time," says Simran Singh, who is going to see Khel for the second time, when it plays in New Jersey. Simran, a New York college student, has nothing against star shows but seeing artists like Shabana Azmi or Jaya Bachchan on the stage means much more to her than watching a Bollywood star show.
H R Shah, one of the organizers of the Talwar shows, believes that the days that only Gujarati comedies did well in America are over. "There is room for all kinds of entertainment," he says, "as long as it is tastefully done and the people's expectations are satisfied."
In a way the trend was started when Shabana Azmi and Farooq Shaikh staged Tumhari Amrita, based on A R Gurney's Love Letters, about six years ago.
Then came Saal Girah, based on Special Occasion and featuring Anupam and Kiron Kher.
Many of the plays are staged in some of the best auditoriums.
"You then get the satisfaction of not only seeing Jaya Bachchan or Paresh Rawal in a super play but you also feel fully satisfied because of the acoustics and stage arrangement," he says.
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