Nadira Babbar: 'There’s a place for all kinds of theatre though I don’t agree with the ethos of ‘experimental’ plays'

In an exclusive interview with FPJ, the living legend of Indian theatre, Nadira Babbar, discusses all factors that continue to inspire her

Anupama CUpdated: Saturday, December 03, 2022, 08:50 PM IST
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Nadira Babbar has been a stalwart of the stage who has, for over 40 years, been faithful to the cause of theatre. On the occasion of being honoured for her lifetime of achievements by Thespo 24, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award recipient spoke about her wonderful journey. What’s interesting is that the recurring theme of love keeps surfacing throughout the conversation.

Love of the arts

“My childhood was one of the best periods of my life,” Nadira ji says, “I was fortunate to have been born to my Communist parents who were actively associated with Progressive Writers' Association and the people’s theatre movement and thus gave me an early love for the arts.”

She admits that she was never into academics. “I wasn’t keen on studying so they encouraged me to choose library science since I loved libraries. But a fortuitous meeting with Ebrahim Alkazi led me to NSD and the rest, as they say, is history. Mr. Alkazi has made me what I am today.”

After NSD, she and her contemporaries in Delhi formed a group and performed regularly.

“When I came to the erstwhile Bombay, so did they and Ekjute Theatre Group was formed.”

The group’s first few plays were ‘Yahudi ki Ladki’ and ‘Lower Depths’. “People fell in love with our performances and appreciated them so much that it drove me to carry on with my passion for theater through my life.”

Nadira ji has also worked outside Ekjute, in different cities as a director and as an actor. “I love working in different kinds of plays and exploring different styles,” she avers.

Begum jaan

Begum jaan |

Happiness is the other factor that motivates her. “I decide what subject/play motivates me at that point and work on it; it’s that simple. Hence I have done different kinds of plays — folk plays like ‘Yahudi Ki Ladki’ or ‘Jasma Odhan’, Indian Classical ones or even musicals because they’ve all inspired me at different stages of my life.”

Experimental or not!

She feels that every artiste has a scope to perform whatever s/he wants. “There’s definitely a place for all kinds of theatre though I don’t agree with the ethos of ‘experimental’ plays. I don’t appreciate doing such plays and I don’t like the word. Theatre is the finest of the arts and this term doesn’t do justice to the efforts and craft that goes into even the simplest play. Also, I don’t understand the need to convolute something that can be stated simply.”

Nadira ji has been more of a director than an actor. She has directed more play than acting them. Speaking of her own performances, she admits that the characters in ‘Begum Jaan’ and ‘Sandhya Chhaya’ are the most appreciated. Nadira ji says “What I love most is acting and I haven’t done enough of it. Maybe I’ll focus on acting in brilliant plays like ‘Begum Jaan’ henceforth. Maybe some comedies as well, since I love doing comedies — be it as an actress or director.”

Having said that, she knows it can get difficult to realise this dream as she has so many clashing priorities that get in the way.

Chalona Aajao

Chalona Aajao |

The bi-annual month-long acting workshops that Ekjute conducts regularly, with the latest one happening at present is one of her top priorities that take a lot of her time. She is a fine poetess too; in fact, her slice-of-life play “Meri Maa Ke Haath” began as a poem that evolved into a play. She loves writing poems but publishing volumes of her plays and her work-in-progress autobiography are top priority.

On a goodbye note, the living legend says “I have been fortunate to meet all kinds of good audiences wherever I have performed. It’s a great feeling, when at theatre festivals, tickets of our plays sell out the soonest. I am overwhelmed with the appreciation, and happy to receive the accolades coming my way. The future of theatre is great and smaller towns are throwing up amazing new stuff – I love what I see and that I can be a part of it.”

It has been a long journey for this genius but, to paraphrase Robert Frost, she has miles to go before she takes a bow.

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