15 November,2015:Â A theatre legend, Nadira Zaheer Babbar has dedicated more than 30 years of her life to the stage. Running one of the country’s foremost theatre groups, Ekjute, she is now returning to acting on stage after a long gap of 15 years, with her new play Roshni Kii Sadaa at this year’s Prithvi Theatre Festival in association with Bombay Times. Nervous about her live performance, the elegant actress reminisces the years gone by in theatre and shares some fond memories of Prithvi.
How would you describe your journey in theatre?
I didn’t have the slightest inclination towards theatre. In fact, in college, I was good for nothing. I was only doing masti, shaitani and was never serious about academics. My two elder sisters were merit listers and their pictures would appear in the newspaper. Naturally, in comparison, my being good for nothing was a sore point and I became the black sheep of the family. In fact, after my BA, in which I fared badly, everyone thought it wasn’t a wise idea for me to pursue an MA. So my parents chose a safe career for me: to become a librarian! But Ebrahim Alkazi (the director of the National School of Drama back then), who was a close acquaintance of my father, suggested I should go to NSD and try out theatre. I was unhappy and joined it against my wishes because I wasn’t remotely interested in acting. But after six months, I started enjoying the process a lot and that’s how my interest in it began. Today, I have realised, theatre is one of the greatest and finest arts in the world. It is lively and every performance is different. And these qualities give me a big high. Nothing in the world can match this feeling.
You were one of the first few people who performed at Prithvi when it started… how was the experience?
I still remember how my association with Prithvi began. I was living in Delhi in the ’70s, and that’s where I met Shashiji (Kapoor) for a shoot. He told me how he had started a small theatre. Just after that, I shifted to Mumbai and met his wife Jennifer. She is one of the greatest human beings I have met in life. Kitni khoobsurat insaan thi woh. She was so in love with Prithvi, which was just a small jhopda back then. I remember how well she treated me. We performed two plays at Prithvi; Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths and Agha Hashar Kashmiri’s Yahudi Ki Ladki. During those days, Jennifer was kind enough to invite me and my whole group to live at Prithvi, rehearse etc., for days on end. She was always so morally upright. No matter how much I speak about her and compliment her, it will always be less. When Prithvi started off, there were just two-three groups performing; the whole space was empty and we could rehearse whenever we wanted. There weren’t any schedule issues. Now there are hundreds of groups and that is heartening to see.
Why did you choose this particular play for the festival?
Roshni Kii Sadaa tells the tale of what Muslim women in our society go through. I have seen so much around me, my heart really aches. Everyone has perceived Islam in a negative light and their followers are being associated with unfortunate incidences. Islam is being seen as a violent religion, which is so wrong. It is one of the finest, peace-loving religions in the world. It is progressive because it allows women to choose whether they agree to a marriage or not, even during the ceremony.
You are acting on stage after 15 years. Did you miss it?
It is unfortunate, because I love acting. But to manage a theatre group is a massive challenge. It is easy to start a drama company but very difficult to run and sustain it. When you are not offering any financial gain to anybody, why will anyone want to work with you? I am very nervous to return to the stage after so many years. But I have a very good team.
How is the experience of being directed by your daughter Juhi? Do you have creative differences?
Woh kya fight karegi! We don’t have differences. When she is directing, I am just an actress, not her mother. I don’t argue with her.
Source:The Times of India