Fifteen years ago when director Vipul Shah saw Chandrakant Kulkarni’s Marathi play Dhyanimani, a socio-psychological thriller starring Neena Kulkarni and Shivaji Satam, he was left spellbound. He wanted to be associated with it in some way, but hardly got any time due to his film projects.
Earlier this year, when Shah decided to make a comeback to theatre after 14 years along with his wife, actress Shefali Shah, he decided to realise his dream by presenting Dhyanimani as a Hindi play to theatre aficionados. “Dhyanimani is one of the best plays that I have ever seen. Even today I recollect all the moments of the project and the vital aspects like light and design,” says the director who has delivered several blockbuster Hindi films like Aankhein, Waqt: The Race Against Time and Namastey London.
Shah started discussing the prospects with Kulkarni who got in touch with Anil Deshmukh to translate the play and named it as Bas Itna Sa Khwab Hai. He also changed the social strata and age groups of the protagonists to make it more contemporary. “The play revolves around a middle-class couple whose life turns upside down after an incident. It gives the audience an opportunity to get a sneak peek into a family’s personal experience. It talks about how we as human beings face psychological problems due to social pressures. It was not very difficult to turn this play into Hindi as its content is universal,” explains Kulkarni.
While Shefali plays the female lead, television actor Kiran Karmakar reprises Satam’s role. Theatre actors Adhir Bhatt and Abir Abrar comprise the rest of the cast.
Shah, who was a well-known name in Gujarati theatre, before turning a film director, is excited about being associated with the stage once again. “I’m enjoying the whole process of presenting the play, watching everyone act and observing how a play takes shape.” Quiz him if he offers any directorial inputs also and he says candidly, “I do make small suggestions but ultimately it’s the director’s call.”
Shefali, who is making a comeback to theatre after a decade is ecstatic to play a pivotal part in this project. She plays Shalini, a wife and mother whose life revolves around her family. She says, “It’s the extraordinary world of an ordinary mother. And I wouldn’t have been able to do complete justice to it if I wasn’t a mother in real life. My role has got multiple layers.” As she started rehearsing, she soon realised that it was a role that emotionally drained her. “As an actor, I don’t have any craft. I can’t perform a role without feeling it. I have to be Shalini and live her life to do justice to this role. It’s extremely taxing.
The actress admits that now she brings a lot to the table in terms of experience. "Today, I’m much richer in experience. When I started my career, I used to follow my directors’ advice blindly. Now, I discuss my interpretation of the role and the consequent ideas and conflicts with him. Chandrakant Kulkarni is an excellent director as he has an incredible insight into the human mind and is always open to suggestions. Bas Itna Sa Khwab Hai has been my own journey with him,” she admits.
Shefali also confesses that apart from the role, it has also been quite a challenge to adapt herself to performing on stage. "Theatre is a medium that offers me opportunity to do so much in the span of two hours. Apart from enacting the role, I also need to have a voice that can convey my emotions and also reach out to people sitting in the last row of the auditorium. There are no retakes in theatre. One needs to have a magnetic quality to hold the audience's attention," she explains.
Though Shefali is clear about doing only specific projects that offer her an opportunity to deliver exceptional performances, her husband is keen to contribute to theatre. Shah says, "Over the years, I have noticed the steady deterioration of content in plays. The audience has also reduced sizably especially in Hindi theatre. I want to be more involved in theatre and bring the audiences back to the auditoriums."