After a long and eerie uncertainty that loomed over the premises of Mumbai’s iconic Prithvi theatre, Naseeruddin Shah returned to stage as Einstein, much to the delight of theatre goers. Shah, who continues to be the theatre circuit’s mainstay, to a large extent, feels there are tough times ahead for theatre in a Covid-19 world.
The 70-year-old actor says, “I fear for the existence of the large commercial spaces as well as the very small ones. But there was the plague in Shakespeare’s time, too. Theatres were shut for a year but recovered gradually. I am optimistic that’ll happen here as well. But I love being on the stage and will continue even if no one turns up.”
His return to stage as Einstein is based on a story written by Canadian playwright Gabriel Emmanuel. The actor first stepped into the shoes of the Nobel laureate six years ago. “What emerges is a sort of line drawing of the man which is very precise and beautifully simple and captures all his salient qualities, his wisdom and his sense of humour,” Shah says.
There’s a section where Einstein says ‘I owe the discovery that I am a Jew to the Gentiles’. It applies perfectly to me and my ‘Muslim’ identity in India.
Einstein, it is well documented, was an ardent lover of literature and classical music. His biographer even wrote about how he always had a copy of Don Quixote next to his bed on his night table. Shah, himself, swears by Cervantes’ classic 17th century work.
“I myself find Don Quixote fascinating and I love music though I don’t know much about it” says the 70-year-old, before he adds, “I was hopeless at physics and can’t claim to understand one millionth of what Einstein said but his puckishness and precision of expression are what charmed me. I can’t claim any affinity with him at all except perhaps that we both believe in the God of Spinoza.”
And if the parallels between these personalities end here, Shah’s clairvoyant self is not averse to the stark similarities between the two eras either. “The systematic marginalisation and victimisation of the Jews in Germany resonates eerily in today’s India. There’s a section where he says ‘I owe the discovery that I am a Jew to the Gentiles’. It applies perfectly to me and my ‘Muslim’ identity here.”
Shah’s propensity for being brutally honest evidently comes across as he expresses his disappointment with some of the developments that have taken place in the last few months. The actor made his debut on OTT last year with Bandish Bandits is apprehensive about the development that saw the government announce its decision to regulate the OTT space.
He says, “The I&B ministry wanting to interfere with online content is a double edged sword, we might see the same idiotic censorial guidelines that operate in movies being applied online as well.”
‘The I&B ministry wanting to interfere with online content is a double edged sword, we might see the same idiotic censorial guidelines that operate in movies being applied online as well.’
Shah doubts whether the move might just be a step towards an odious intent to curtail the freedom of the makers under the garb of regulation. “The intention of the I&B is actually not to limit the rampant permissiveness and obscene language on OTT but to be a watch dog for anything it perceives as ‘anti-national’ and anything these days can be branded as such-even saying that you don’t like Hindi movies,” adds the actor.
‘I feel nervous about that (his old films streaming on OTT) because many of those ’70s and ’80s films were rubbish disguised as art.’
Although he ventured into the uncharted waters somewhat late, Shah’s films, nevertheless, have been the beneficiaries of OTT. And the actor does realise its numerous merits, i.e, according to him: “writers and filmmakers don’t face the pressure of casting stars or compromising their content with unnecessary songs and violence.” Yet, he remains somewhat dismissive of the fact that a completely new generation is getting to see his definitive work from the ’80’s and ’70’s. “I feel nervous about that because many of those ’70s and ’80s films were rubbish disguised as art,” he quips.