Monday, February 26, 2024

Seema Pahwa: Theatre will definitely make you a better actor

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In an exclusive conversation with The Pioneer, veteran actress-director Seema Pahwa recalled her theatre days, her transition into direction, directing Zee Theater’s Koi Baat Chale, and more.

Tejal Sinha
Veteran actress Seema Pahwa has won hearts for all the obvious reasons. Before she could make her entry into the cinema world, she had worked extensively with theatre groups in Delhi at a tender age.

In fact, in a recent interview, the Ferrari ki Sawari actress recalled her theatre days, stating that there was a Punjabi theatre group that performed at Sapru House, which was dubbed “vulgar theatre” because all their dialogues had double meanings and she wasn’t aware of that.

When we asked her about it, she recalled saying, “Yes, I was very young and slowly began to realise that what I was saying had a very different meaning because people would laugh at my lines. It was then that I began to grasp the language.”

However, theatre is something that she has always loved to date. She had worked extensively in various Delhi theatre groups before making it big with Hum Log.Taking us through what made her get into theatres at a young age, she shared, “My mother was a veteran actress, and because of her, I came into this field very early. When I did theatre for the first time, I came face to face with the audience, and the live energy was absolutely invigorating. I may have done more work in cinema and on television, but I still love theater, which I think is the best medium for any actor because it reveals your weaknesses and strengths and gives you a better grasp of your craft. Cinema may or may not make you a better actor, but theatre definitely will, and that is why I am still associated with it.”

It was later in 2019 when the Bareily ki Barfi actress made her directorial debut with the critically acclaimed Ramprasad ki Tehrvi. But did you know that directing was never in her plans? “I had never thought about directing and always wanted to be an actor first. In fact, I was looking for a director for Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi, but everyone refused and told me, “Seema, this is your world, and you know it best, so you are the one who is going to direct it.” This made me gain more confidence, and I decided to give it a try. And now, of course, I am directing Koi Baat Chale by Zee Theatre.”

Zee Theatre had recently presented Koi Baat Chale, another pathbreaking series of dramatic readings, as part of their promise under the proposition of ‘Har Din Naya Drama’. And, for the unaware, the series is being directed by the Badhaai Do actress.

Talking about the main focus behind directing the series, she shared, “With Koi Baat Chale, my intention is for Indian literature to reach this generation so that it can discover the treasure trove of great stories penned by iconic writers. Today’s youth are not well aware of our own literature, and maybe through the dramatic readings by accomplished actors in Koi Baat Chale, they will get interested in these stories and explore more works by these writers. If, out of 10 people, even two develop a connection with literature through this teleplay, I will consider that we have succeeded in our mission to some extent. We have curated six classic stories that are very different from each other. We have two short stories penned by Munshi Premchand, three tales by Manto, and one by Harishankar Parsai. Through this mixed fare and variety, we hope to reach all kinds.”

With such a format, we asked if an actor needs any additional skills to do justice to this medium. To this, the virtuoso enthused, “It’s not easy to perform solo because you have no co-actor to support you on stage, and you have to be the narrator and also portray all the characters in the story. For instance, in “Idgah,” Vinay Pathak plays a child, a grandmother, a shopkeeper, and all the other characters that are part of the story. Creating a distinct portrayal of all the characters while narrating the story can become very challenging for an actor. Everyone from Sadiya Siddiqui, Manoj Pahwa, and Vinay Pathak to Vivaan Shah has excelled and delivered exactly what was required.”

“Both have been challenging in different ways,” the actress said of her directorial debut, Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi, a feature film, and Koi Baat Chale, a theatre piece. “When it comes to theatre, however, there are certain limitations. You are bound to the stage, have limited resources, and can rely on just the actors and a few props to create a story. Despite this, our effort has been to bring a visual treat to the audience. Hopefully, they will appreciate and laud our efforts,” she added.

There were several stories that our grandparents would tell us about in the past. Koi Baat Chale brings those memories back to us in a different format. Sharing about choosing these six stories, she said, “This is a bit difficult to say as we have such great literature, and it was a tough task to pick and choose only a few stories. There are stories that are close to your heart, and so those were the ones that came to my mind instantly. Story-telling is a continuous process, so I hope that the project will live up to its name, Koi Baat Chale. There are many more stories we want to bring to the audience.”

For sure, the act might have demanded actors with a different set of skills. As a director, one has their own set of lists for the actors while casting them. Wondered what she was looking for in the actors while casting them? She said, “I looked for actors who were capable of doing justice to all the characters in the story and also being strong narrators. In these times, it takes very little to just change the channel, so it is crucial to grab and hold the attention of the audience from start to finish. All our actors are renowned and established, and they have succeeded marvellously in keeping the audiences totally engrossed.”

With OTT gaining huge prominence over time, she believes, “This is a great initiative. Initially, I myself was sceptical about bringing theatre to the small screen, but when I saw a few teleplays, I came to realise that this can be a great medium to bring wonderful plays to the audience in the comfort of their homes.”

From Shyam Benegal to Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Seema has worked with some of the biggest names in the film industry. Ending the conversation on a lighter note, she signed off by saying, “Every director has their own way of working, be it Shyam Babu or Sanjay Ji. A director’s work has various focus points. Shyam Babu’s focus is on actors working on their characters with a certain liberty and ensuring that story-telling is at its best, while Sanjay Ji’s focus is on making every shot beautiful and perfect in terms of the performance, the set, the props, etc. He not only focuses on these details but also on creating great music as well. So every director has his or her own charm, and I have been lucky to work with so many of them.”

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