Where his heart lies

theatre

Where his heart lies

Jaimini Pathak is busy with rehearsals at the Prithvi Theatre Festival. His play Toxic with actors Divya Jagdale and Shiv Subrahmanyam, among others, is being staged. This year, he has been on his feet acting all the while with Comedy of Horrors, Mahadevbhai, Waiting for Naseer and Wildtrack.

And it’s a happy space for him to be in. After all, he confesses, acting is his first love. “It’s great to rediscover my first love – acting. Not that I have been inactive as an actor. It’s been very rewarding and exciting to be a director and producer. But I was missing the pure fun of submitting to a role and to a director’s vision purely as an actor. I have realised that for me acting is the most direct form of self-expression,” says Jaimini.

Director Sunil Shanbag could be credited with enticing Jaimini back into acting. The two reconnected last year after a gap of 15 long years with Club Desire. “In fact, he was the one I had begun my career with in 1990,” reminisces Jaimini. Club Desire opened the floodgates, followed by Waiting For Naseer, Comedy Of Horrors, and Wildtrack. “All the roles I play are very different from one another and it’s been very satisfying to stretch myself as an actor in this way,” he says.

Outside his comfort zone

The last in that list, Arghya Lahiri’s Wildtrack, a two-actor play, has been longlisted for a playwright award, and has been performed across cities. “I was thoroughly intrigued when I read Arghya’s script. It was quirky and unusual and very poignant and touching too. It was a two-actor play with a wide range of performance styles and techniques required.”

Jaimini says it had what he always looks for — something that takes him out of his comfort zone physically, mentally and emotionally. But the play that’s closest to Jaimini’s heart and, arguably, will forever remain so, is Mahadevbhai. Written and directed by Ramu Ramanathan, and performed solo by Jaimini, this play was not originally meant for young audiences, but has school and college students turning up in huge numbers to know the story of the man who was Mahatma Gandhi’s personal secretary, and maintained a diary on him for 25 long years.

When asked why this play is close to his heart, he says, “Oh, there are so many reasons. Why and how it was written in 2002 in the wake of the Gujarat riots and the spate of anti-Gandhi plays in Maharashtra. The fact that Ramu Ramanthan wrote it for me specifically. That it is an impeccably researched and exquisitely crafted solo piece. That it will be fresh and relevant as long as I have the inclination and the strength to perform it.”

The historical play has completed more than 300 performances till date. It has been invited to perform at many places across the country and Jaimini has even travelled abroad and performed for absolutely diverse audiences. “We have received such genuine warmth, love and appreciation almost everywhere we have performed. More than half of the performances have been for school and college students even though it was not originally conceived for young audiences.”

Plays for kids

Speaking about theatre for children, Jaimini says he doesn’t like to create dumbed-down plays for them. “I like connecting with children. They are a great audience to perform for. They recognise and reward an honest piece of theatre. And are quite frank about their lack of appreciation too! It's great to be kept on one’s toes in this way. I also like doing non-escapist plays for them that have underlying themes that could be considered serious. It’s not easy to do this in a child-friendly way. It’s exhilarating when they understand these nuances. Kids are most willing to open their minds and hearts to new stories and forms of storytelling.” His theatre group Working Title has been mulling on a few plays and stories to stage for children and this summer might have a fresh new production for the young audience to enjoy.

Having performed solo, in two handers and with a group of actors, there is no one format that challenges him greater than the other. “I don’t really know how to make these distinctions. I have been fortunate enough to have a bit of all this. As an actor, I am game for a play as long as I can connect to the script and my role.”

So while he enjoys feeding off and contributing to his co-actors’ performances, he also confesses that solo performances can get lonely sometimes. “Yes, if one is accustomed to the energy and support of co-actors. But then I discovered, as I went along with Mahadevbhai, that the audience are, in a way, my collaborators. And then I found a new source of energy in them,” he says.

Of all the aspects of theatre, Jaimini has often spoken about the lack of good plays written for theatre, which is the cornerstone of any good performance. “Playwriting is financially the least rewarding of all forms of writing in this country. You will literally find only a shelf and a half containing plays in any bookstore across the country. It is also my personal opinion that playwriting is the most difficult form of creative writing. One cannot write great plays from the isolation of one’s study. Add to that the fact that the ultimate test of a play lies in performance.”

Jaimini’s company has four running productions — The Boy Who Stopped Smiling, Mahadevbhai, Postcards From Bardoli and Dirty Talk. He also conducts theatre curricula for a few schools and has had a long association with Sanjna Kapoor and her arts organisation — Junoon. But the one thing that’s been on his wishlist for a while is to act in a musical. “And sing live onstage,” he says, adding, “I can hold a tune.”

As for his bucket list, he says he keeps emptying and filling it pretty often. “Right now I am thoroughly enjoying my second innings as an actor. I hope it’s a long one. Apart from that, I have started writing again, just for sheer fun. If I were more disciplined, I would be more prolific. But that’s a platitude.”

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