How does one read letters that two people wrote to each other a century ago for two hours in front of an audience and not put them to sleep? At first, I was quite skeptical about the whole play, Dear Liar. I even told my mum it wouldn’t be entertaining. I had once seen two people read out letters before. The letters were those exchanged by Mahatma Gandhi and err.. C Rajagopalachari, if I’m not wrong, called, My Dear Bapu. It was at The Hindu Literature Fest last year. It was Rahul Bose and Yog Japee reading the letters sitting at a desk each at different corners of the stage.
As much as I respect Rahul Bose and his acting skills, it was just boring and found myself spacing out every two minutes. I had to remind myself to listen to the insightful exchange of letters. (And also, I don’t like the name Yog Japee. I’m sorry, but to me, that’s an irritating name. So I didn’t pay much attention to his letters).
Anyway, Dear Liar, is basically a play about the exchange of (love) letters between Irish playwright Geroge Bernard Shaw and actor Mrs. Patrick Campbell. Note that both of them are married to other people, but their love is a blossoming one, that gets articulated a very few times. It’s a very classy, sophisticated play. And I just loved how Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah put it across. First of, when they’re on stage, you tend to black out everything around you. They execute everything so effortlessly and flawlessly. I loved how they weaved themselves casually into the play, when Ratna Pathak said, “Shall we begin, Mr. Shah?” He laughed and said “Mr. Shaw you mean!” It was cute and funny with him bowing and her curtseying and the tipping of the hat and all that.
What I really liked was how they kept the play alive by walking all around the stage and the actions and the reactions to the letters the other read. They were never standing in the same spot for more than a minute, except when the characters they were portraying grew old and couldn’t sit or stand with as much ease. The play traces their relationship right from their 40’s to their death. They covered the First World War (I was so happy that i knew about everything they referred to, like the sinking of the British Navy ship Lusitania, thanks to my War Photography thesis at ACJ. It wasn’t useless after all. Heh), the Great Depression and the Second World War. The letters were very insightful. Not like the actors wrote the letters themselves, but much credit goes to them to have been able to keep the audience hooked on to such a, well, not ‘uninteresting’, but I mean to say, perhaps an unconventional script.
The last play I saw involved a whole lot of action. And I mean a lot. It was this set of ten plays, part of something called The Greenroom Project. It was hilarious. And before you get the wrong idea, it wasn’t dirty action. The kind of action I’m talking about is people spitting mouths full of water on each other’s faces, smashing eggs on each other and basically in-your-face action like that. Dear Liar is obviously very different. It takes extreme talent to keep viewers hooked with a script like that and to be able to re-create the age (early 1900’s in this case) and characters that don’t exist anymore. Well, I’m no one to judge since I have never been up on stage.
I did audition for a play once. I went for practice one day. It was a spoof of Romeo and Juliet, if I remember right. And they had given me the role of Juliet. We just did a bit of script-reading sitting at a restaurant. They asked me to read it out loud to the guy sitting next to me, who was playing Romeo, a marvadi guy. I never went back for practice after that.
You know, sometimes I think acting is the simplest thing. When I see someone performing some part, I think That’s easy. In fact, I could’ve done a better job. I even picture myself and I know I can do a better job. But I can’t pretend to be someone else’s girlfriend or lover. That just affects my personal life and makes everything awkward. I can never comprehend how professional actors straddle their personal and professional lives. I interviewed Ratna Pathak Shah a few days back and I really wanted to ask her this question. “Do you not find it difficult watching your husband perform in intimate scenes like that in Dirty Picture?” But somehow, I couldn’t get myself to ask her that. It’s probably too personal a question and none of my business. I know she is all professional and it not not affect her and their job requires them to do such things; but if I was in her place, even if my future husband and I were professional actors, it would bother me to even watch him act all loving with some other girl.
Apart from the story of the play itself, there was some bit of it that got me thinking about life and my career. Mrs. Campbell is an actor. A glamourous beautiful young actor at first but later a pride-filled, attention craving old lady who does everything she can to hold on to her past but fails and doesn’t age too gracefully. At least that’s what I understood. George Bernard Shaw, however, continues to write plays until his very last day and he lives rather comfortably while Mrs. Campbell becomes rather “poor” and “uncomfortable.” I realised writing is perhaps one of the best careers to take up. Of course, to me, it’s a passion and a way of expressing myself and I do it better in writing than in action. When I grow older and financially stable, I’d like to have a fictional novel of my own published some day. And the best part is, I can do that even when I’m 70 and can’t move about. All I need is a cup of tea, Mark Knopfler playing my “work music” (because any other music distracts me) and my laptop.
And oh! I almost forgot. So I went back stage after the play today, to hand over a “thank you” card that I made for Ratna Pathak Shah. She had 30 people waiting outside the green room for her. She was so tired and weak when she came out. She politely refused to meet anyone. I walked up to her and gave her my card and said “I just want to give you this card. I’m the girl who interviewed you a few days back.” And she actually remembered and said, “Oh Swathi, right? Glad you could make it!” She is such an intelligent, opinionated and inspiring woman and a splendid actor. I’m just so glad to have spoken to her.
Oh man! I’ve been ranting on for too long. Guess it’s because it’s been a while since I wrote a post.
Well, I’ll end here. Until next time!