Thirty years ago,with building blocks drawn from his own life,director Mahesh Bhatt had created a film,Arth. The story of a simple,homely woman,who has to pick up the pieces of her life after her husband leaves her for another woman,had won Shabana Azmi a National Award. Arth was also the story of several other women,among them a domestic help,and their struggles for self-assertion in a patriarchal society. As Bhatt prepares to adapt the film for the stage for the first time,Delhi-based actor Imran Zahid finds himself playing the man at the centre of the love triangle,the role of a philanderer thats coloured in entirely grey.
Im know this is a woman-centric play. Yet,the male protagonist has a full-fledged role because the story starts with him. Hes the one who falls in love and wants to leave his wife,creating the narrative of trauma and ultimate victory for the women, says Zahid. He is in his thirties,tall,his hair casually spiked and the top buttons of his shirt opened Zahid is a shoo-in as a cad.
Bhatt says that Arth would be Zahid’s litmus test. The actor agrees. Of course,he can draw comfort from previous,equally strong,roles. Zahid had played Muntadhar al-Zaidi,the Iraqi journalist who had thrown a shoe at the then US president George Bush,in the play,The Last Salute. In his last production,Trial of Errors,Zahid had essayed the role of a journalist who is framed by the security agencies as a terrorist. Both plays were directed by Bhatt. At the first performance of The Last Salute,al-Zaidi,who was present in the audience,embraced me and we both had tears in our eyes says Zahid. He had read up and researched for al-Zaidis role,he says. For Arth,however,he is drawing upon everyday experiences. We all know people whose partners have cheated on them,or who are cheating on their partners. I dont have to think; I have to feel this role, he says. He isnt sold on Method acting and,though he watches around 20 films every month,he doesnt copy any actors style. His stage skills have been honed through plays in Delhi,especially with Asmita Theatre Group,and for him acting comes as a natural flow.
Perhaps,most unconventionally,Zahid doesnt plan to shift to Mumbai. When he is not acting,the actor is a real-life Director of a journalism school called Take One in East of Kailash in south Delhi. Unlike many theatre actors,including Nawazuddin Siddiqui,who become famous only after they did films,the stage has been kind to me; I have found creative satisfaction and critical acclaim on the Delhi stage, he says. He does have a film in the pipeline,Marksheet,where he plays Ranjit Don,who allegedly leaked CAT and other exam papers.
Right now,however,Zahid is getting into the mind of a man who asks his loving wife for a divorce. How does one do that? he wonders. Once,I had to ask an employee to leave. For days after that,I couldnt look at myself. Now,I must play a husband who breaks the worst possible news to his wife, he says.