Veteran Indian actor Pankaj Kapur returns to Dubai with dramatic reading of novella Dopehri

Award-winning Bollywood actor Pankaj Kapur returns to theatre after 30 years with Dopheri, a dramatic narration of his novella on a old lady struggling with loneliness and self-discovery.

‘The desire to hear a story, and a story well told, triumphs over internet, film and television sometimes,’ says Pankaj Kapur. Courtesy ADSS
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At the age of 62, Bollywood actor Pankaj Kapur is increasingly aware of the emotional anguish that the aged can face as the years pass by. It is fitting, then, that for his return to theatre after 20 years, he is staging the story of a woman coping with old age.

The veteran actor brought to life two of the most endearing characters on television – Karamchand, from the 1980s detective series of the same name, and Mussadi Lal in the satirical show Office Office – and went on to star in some of the boldest films to come out of Bollywood, including Maqbool (2004) and Dharm (2007).

He decided last year to return to his roots by setting up Theatron, a theatre-production company, with his wife Supriya Pathak, who is also an actor.

Its first production, Dopehri (afternoon), a reading of a novella he wrote about often-ignored senior citizens, makes its UAE debut at Ductac on Friday.

“The reason I wrote this ­novella was because I wanted to do something about women in ­general,” says Kapur.

“Everyone is talking about the girl child and young girls, but nobody is talking the older section of the society, their loneliness and what their life is about. I’m not saying this is the story of every older person but it is something a lot of them face.”

His story, which he will narrate, is about a woman who is left alone in her ancestral mansion in Lucknow, as she struggles with loneliness and self-discovery.

“It’s a bit unusual that I’m the novelist and the actor who is reading out his own material,” he says.

The Indian National award-­winning actor says the decision to narrate instead of adapt the story as a play was a result of a desire to rekindle his relationship with the audience. To that end, he has already staged the production across India.

“I want to use my experiences and ability as an actor instead of memorising lines and doing it as a one-man act,” he says. “I thought such a reading was a novel idea.”

Kapur uses voice modulation, supplemented by mood lighting and soft music, to make an impact on stage.

“We have used a minimalist set to create an atmosphere, just enough to give movement to the novelist and give a sense to the audience that they are seeing something more than just a reading,” he says.

“The set symbolises a bit of the writer – it has a few props to give a sense of a haveli (mansion), a terrace, a dried tree, all of which depict the loneliness of the woman and the culture of the place.”

Kapur says he wants take the audience back to traditional Hindustani language, which adds to the setting.

“It’s a lot of storytelling,” he says. “The Urdu or Hindustani language we use isn’t popular in theatre these days. It was a language that was being used in cinema from the 1950s until the ’80s. It is a very communicative language.”

As for his return to the stage after all these years, he says he missed his “theatre home”.

"I think it's just that I got caught up with direction, production and writing, which took me away from stage," says Kapur. In addition to his acting work, he wrote and directed the 2011 Hindi film Mausam. He will also be seen in the upcoming Bollywood film Toba Tek Singh, which based on the 1955 short story by Pakistani author Saadat Hasan Manto.

“Then, when I turned 60, I felt that it was time to go back to my home, from where I learnt and grew up.”

Kapur says his film choices now allow him to add more theatre work to his schedule.

“I have been rather selective, doing not more than two or thee films a year, so that leaves me with plenty of time to prep for my plays and theatre activities,” he says.

Theatron arose out of his hope to see more fresh and original writing by Indian playwrights presented on stage.

“We want to do theatre that represents our culture and society, but also other societies in the world,” he says. “We want to bring a variety of stories and characters to the audience. We definitely want to indulge in fresh writing for this. We don’t just want to repeat what has been done a million times.”

New productions of classics will be considered, but the focus will be on nurturing and promoting young writers.

“I am very keen that with the experienced actors such as Supriya and myself, we also have youngsters join us,” he says. “Like, my younger daughter and son are now actively involved in Theatron.

“I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people coming to theatre now, which is heart-warming. A lot has to do with my colleagues who have consistently been doing good theatre, but also today’s youth that is exposed to world theatre and different forms of expression, theatre being one of them.

“The desire to hear a story, and a story well told, triumphs over internet, film and television sometimes.”

Although he is returning to familiar territory, he says he now has to navigate a few modern-day problems.

“[A lack of] affordable and good theatre venues is a big issue at the moment,” says Kapur. “More community theatres are necessary so that theatre groups can sustain themselves and the art form can survive.”

• Dopehri is at Ductac – Mall of the Emirates on Friday, September 2 at 6pm and 9pm. Tickets are from Dh150 on www.ductac.org

​aahmed@thenational.ae