Actor-director Ananth Mahadevan is a man who wears many hats. While he is adept at making both socially relevant as well as masala films in Bollywood, he also actively manages to devote time to his other interest — acting in plays. In an exclusive conversation with Indian Express.com, Ananth spoke to us about his opinion on the political call to ban Pakistani actors, his love for plays and why he wishes to see Amitabh Bachchan acting in theatre.
What is your take on MNS’ political call to ban Pakistani actors?
It’s like saying if parents are fighting in the neighborhood then their kids are not allowed to see each other. So the fault might lie with the parents but kids too have to bear the brunt at the end of the day. Because if you have a grouse with your neighbour and if he has hurt you or wife or someone in your family and if you are calling a child from that family to your home for dinner then eyebrows would be raised. I guess it is human nature to immediately alienate everything that is termed the enemy and everyone has to bear the brunt whether it is an innocent citizen from Pakistan who will now suffer because Indus water would be cut off or an actor who would suffer because he won’t get work in India or any other person where politics rules and dirty politics rules. It is the off-springs who will suffer. Like they say why is the child suffering for his father’s sins? Call it bad karma.
Tell us about your play Can I see You and your role in it?
It’s a charming, sweet and heart-warming play. Generally, plays which are labelled as comedy tend to go over the top and stretch a lot of things. But very rarely are they rich in humour. Can I Help You is a play that is rich in humour? It’s a comedy of manners in many ways and it’s about an insurance agent who wants to sell his ancestral home in Darjeeling. But nobody us willing to buy it because it is bang next to suicide point. I play Mr Ghosh who is interested in buying the house from its owner played by Dalip Tahil. He is about to buy the house when he sees a young boy about to jump off the cliff. That boy is a failed cricketer and how that one element acts as an anti-catalyst to a list of people pulling off the deal and how their lives change when the three of them come together is what the play is all about.
Does theatre offer you more creative satisfaction than the world of commercial cinema?
I need a break from the cinema where I am a director and every responsibility is in my head. I need to break away from that and theatre provides me just that relief because here I am only an actor thoroughly enjoying it. This is my 35th year in theatre and this is the only remedy to be sane in a world that is absolutely insane today where you are not allowed to do the kind of work that you want to do or they will not permit you to do it. So at least theatre keeps you going because every weekend you have that great high for two hours when you are live in front of an audience that is reacting to you and you know that you are alive.”
Why are there fewer takers for plays vis-à-vis commercial cinema?
We need to create an audience. Unfortunately, theatre-going culture in India is restricted to weekends. The theatre practitioners are restricted to 5 pm rehearsals after their bank jobs. So it’s sad that people don’t look at theatre as a full-time job. I would personally want to do three performances a day, 90 shows a month and earn my living from theatre if given a choice but unfortunately it is not that.
Why have many of your superstars stayed away from theatre despite starting their careers with it?
Some are too engaged to do theatre. Other superstars are too frightened to do theatre and they have admitted to the same. Hats off to Naseer saab, Om Puri. Anupam Kher and others. These are people who have kept theatre alive. It’s heartening to see they are continuing. In India, if Mr. Bachchan goes on stage and sets it on fire, it would run endlessly. But unfortunately, that is not to be. He has done a lot of plays in his college days. When could we get the privilege of seeing Mr. Bachchan on stage because that is the only equivalent we could get in India of seeing a Richard Burton or Peter O’Toole or Anthony Hopkins. How we wish a man of his stature would go out there on stage.