By IndiaFM News BureauThis year Amitabh Bachchan’s birthday will coincide with the launch of a collector’s item book on Shah Rukh Khan. ‘Still Reading Khan’ written by Mushtaq Shiekh will be a literary piece to look forward to for all SRK fans.
We present you an interesting excerpt from the fourth chapter of the book – Rough Crossing
Let’s start from the beginning. The play is Baghdad Ka Ghulam, a huge comedy production; the core group was in workshop for a month before the casting happened. The rehearsals are into the second week, with two more weeks to go before the play opens. The lead actors are Shah Rukh, as Khalid, and Divya Seth as Benazir. Of this ‘core group’, Rituraj is today a successful television star in Bombay; Manoj Bajpai and Raghuvir Yadav, then known names in the theatre circuit, are now also national award winners with successful film careers; Benny Thomas is pursuing his advertising career; and Divya Seth handles her theatre, television and film roles discerningly.
Divya, the pert young woman in the beginning of the chapter, had joined the group a year after Shah Rukh. She had been with the competition, a theatre group called Stageshow, run by Amir Raza Hussain. “Every time TAG had its big annual production, they would do this number on me that we are having auditions so why don’t you come along.” And one day she did land up. “There was this intimate group already part of TAG. There was Benny, Rituraj, Shah Rukh, Sunjoy, Vivek and Mohit. I was the outsider at that time.”
But her frankness soon put an end to these vibes, and Divya ended up becoming such good friends with the group that it was heartbreaking to have to go back to Stageshow. It was not just the friendship; it was the TAG ethos that attracted her. “Everybody was equally important in the play. There were teams for everything. I was impressed with the organisation and I just loved Barry, being directed by Barry. After …Earnest, my heart wasn’t in Stageshow. I wanted to belong here, in TAG.” So she quit Stageshow. But being its lead actress, this move made her director Amir Raza quite wild. But that’s another story.
The rehearsals are finally getting over. It is nearly 10. The watchman has been peering in at the door and coughing ominously. But nobody wanted to go home yet. A regular haunt was the paan shop where Benny would get cigarettes for Shah Rukh and fortify himself with a paan. Or it would be Nirulas, where they would binge on burgers and Coke (Yeah people, don’t tell the Pepsi guys). Coke and caffeine were their choice drinks, which would get them all wired up. Some nights, they would head for a movie at Chanakya, with Shah Rukh driving his Fiat. There would be chaat and conversations in Bengali Market. Or a drive down to Mulchand’s Dhaba, a shack with a plastic sheet for a ceiling and wooden benches as seats, which served greasy egg parathas till three in the morning.
The boys were great ones for gol guppas (pani puri to Mumbaiites). They would time their entry and exits during the plays and run off to have chaat. “We would give Divya heart attacks. Shah Rukh, Rituraj and I would say, there are two more scenes to go before ours, gol guppe khake aate hain (let’s go and have some gol guppas). And she would get catatonic, ‘How can you think of such things?’ And we would go and come back and she would be shivering,” laughs Benny.
Then, of course, they would often land up at Shah Rukh’s house in Gautam Nagar, where discussions would start in earnest. Or, at times, it would be at a party that one would find the group at loggerheads over some issue. Lilette would sometimes walk out exclaiming, “I can’t take it any more!”
“We would start talking, jamming, improvising, punning. I was told it could stretch for hours and the party would be over and people would be leaving and parents would be banging on the door and we would still be going on. Pretty traumatic for everybody,” laughs Benny.
At times, they would go to other plays and behave badly. They would catch some really terrible plays. “Just to laugh. I have actually been told, ‘Can you not laugh so much?’ Benny and I would be somewhere on the floor laughing. For at TAG, whenever we do a play, we do it right, otherwise, we don’t do it. That was Barry’s motto,” says Divya.
Theatre life began and ended with plays. The group became family, acting was life. “That’s what a theatre group does to you. You suddenly disappear for everyone else. Even the day somebody didn’t have a rehearsal or they were not required, they would still come. You can’t stay away. There was such madness, there was such a sense of belonging, and of knowing this is where you want to be and where you should be. It was wonderful,” says Divya.
(Courtesy: Still Reading Khan by Mushtaq Shiekh, Om Books, 450 pages, Rs 3,000)
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