The first thing you notice about Naseeruddin Shah is the tuft of curly white hair on his head and can’t help but wonder how much he has begun to look like Albert Einstein! Coincidentally, that was a character he had portrayed for the play Einstein. We don’t often come across humans such as Shah, who lives life with so much raw passion for it. Who, despite being one of the greatest actors India has seen, prefers to keep aside his starry airs and remain unabashedly open about his opinions — fearless and on your face, come what may!
Shah, along with his equally talented wife and actor Ratna Pathak Shah, was in Kochi to stage their play A Walk in the Woods, by Motley, the group formed by Shah and Benjamin Gilani back in the 1970s. At an interaction held on Saturday, Shah and Ratna engaged in a candid conversation about theatre, cinema, old age and their play.
So what is A Walk in the Woods all about ? “It is an adaptation of a play written by Lee Blessing, that goes by the same name.” Getting eloquent about the details of the play he says, “The original play unfolds in the 1960s during the heights of Cold War, when a Russian and an American diplomat decide to talk as human beings.” After the adaptation, the Russian and American diplomats were replaced with an Indian and Pakistani diplomat. “I play the Pakistani diplomat and Rajit plays the Indian diplomat.”
When questioned about why he always returns to theatre, Shah had just one straight answer, “I love theatre, that’s why.” Then why take up commercial movies? He laughs and does not mince words when saying, “Because I get paid well for it !”
Talking about the perks of returning to theatre, Ratna adds, “It keeps the family together, will get plenty of time with the family and gets to say lines that actually means something!” (Laughs)
Responding to the same question, Shah says , “It is in a theatre that one gets to associate with the greatest writings in the world. Where do we get to do that in films,” he asks.
Is Nasseruddin Shah ever fully satisfied with his performances on stage?
“When we stage a play for the first time, every one comes to us and says very good, very good!! Most of our plays have been going on for years now. We stage them over and over again. And after a while, when we look back at the first time we staged it, we usually feel that we could’ve done things better. But then even after the latest staging, people still come to us and tell us ‘it was good– it was good’!!,” he chuckles. “So I wouldn’t say I’m never satisfied but I’ll say I am always satisfied,” he laughs aloud.
Can acting be learnt or is it instinctive? “Acting is a craft. It can be learnt. But one must have an aptitude for it,” says Shah. Speaking about creating plays such as ‘Gadh-ha aur Gadd-ha’ for children, Shah says, “We have often done plays for children but the trouble is no children came for it,” he says followed by his signature bass toned laughter. “ Only grown-ups came for the children’s play, so we treated them like children ! I’d be happy if children came to watch ‘A walk in the woods”
Shah had a very clear response when asked about intolerance in the country. “It has affected in no visible way, but there are isolated incidents,” he said. But it was Ratna’s tongue-in-cheek ‘aside’ that won the moment, “Ask Anupam Kher !” she said and laughed along with Shah.
Shah had acted alongside Mammootty in the 1994 release Ponthan Mada. When asked about Malayalam movies and Kerala, he says, “I am very fond of Malayalam, but it’s very difficult to speak.” Reminiscing about an earlier visit to Kerala he says “We had visited Kerala, back when we were newly married. My brother was placed at Koratty.” “And we saw ‘Nedu-mudi-Venu’s’ film, such a
lovely name he has,” added Ratna. “ We saw a poster of his movie, he looked interesting and went and watched his movie,”adds Shah. Do you both enjoy getting older?
“Absolutely,i do enjoy it. But it comes with its share of troubles.” says Shah.
“The best thing about it is that we can say anything we want and get away with it!,” says Ratna. They laugh together and gets busy with the photo sessions.