Saurabh Shukla is an actor, writer and director, whose comfort zone lies on the proscenium stage — when the spotlight is on and when a performance needs to be delivered. Away from the stage for a while now, Shukla returns to stage with Barff, a play written and directed by him. The comeback, he says, has been a gratifying experience. “My soul lives in theatre,” says Shukla, who is touring with the play across the country.
“Theatre has been my life, but I wanted to be financially secure. So after that security came to me with Bollywood, I decided to come back to theatre. I had originally written this script as a film, but due to paucity of money and time it could not be materialised,” says Shukla.
He was to present something interesting at the Birmingham Theatre Festival recently and decided to lead with this idea. He reworked the film script and decided to present it as a play. Shukla plays the protagonist along with well-known actors Sadia Siddique and Sunil Palwal. Jammu-based Palwal was recently seen as Fahim Butt in Jolly LLB 2. Shukla was also part of the recent Akshay Kumar starrer. It was Barff that got Palwal the role in Jolly LLB-2.
Shukla, who began his acting career with theatre and was part of the Repertory of the National School Drama for many years, presents a story that highlights the plight of tourist guides and their families in conflict-torn “paradise”, Kashmir. The story portrays how life is better for some people if they continue to live in an illusion, rather than face the reality.
It’s a subject that has been on Shukla’s mind for years. He, like many others, has been noticing the complex layers in the situation in Kashmir, and how it continues to affect the common people. Shukla, with his sets and design, has created a backdrop of Kashmir, and says that it was a challenge to both act in and direct the play. “During my struggling days, I wrote many plays. But this subject was something that I always wanted to touch upon. The play has its simple, light moments and also some thrilling ones,” says Shukla, who performed in Ludhiana this week.
The love for acting, says Shukla, who recently won a National Award for Jolly LLB, keeps him going and also gives him ground to experiment with roles in both theatre and films such as Bandit Queen, Satya and Barfi among others.
Barff opens with the story of Dr Siddhant Kaul, who arrives in Kashmir for a seminar, where he meets Rasool (Palwal), a tourist guide who takes him through the breathtaking snow-clad valley. Hearing Rasool talk to his wife Nafeesa (Siddique) about their child who is ill, the doctor insists on visiting their home and treating the child. Rasool is reluctant and doesn’t want the doctor to come to his home, but Kaul insists. When he visits Nafeesa, Rasool realises her child is nothing but a lifeless doll. In shock, since she had a miscarriage, Nafeesa’s life is hinging on a toy whom she loves and feeds like a living baby. Illusion, reality, helplessness, hope, loneliness and abandonment, the play explores many facets of conflict and how each one of us reacts and responds to it. The doctor “treats” the electronic doll by repairing it and Nafeesa believes that her baby has come back to life.
The village where the couple lives is a ghost village, where all the other homes have been abandoned due to the fear of war. Nafeesa even speaks to the dead and their souls, believing they are alive. Shukla reflects that the subject was intense, serious and challenging to write. “Life holds no meaning when struggle ends. I have come back to theatre after 18 years, because may be I never wanted this struggle to end. I want to be a part of this struggle forever because it gives me satisfaction,” says Shukla, who will soon be seen in Jagga Jasoos and Shabaash Guddu.