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SECOND INNINGS ON STAGE

'I no longer want to do stupid comedies'

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WORD POWER: A still from the play 'Teri Amrita'

Om Puri does not believe in pulling his punches. The actor is returning to theatre after a gap of 25 years with Teri Amrita, a Punjabi adaption of the American playwright A R Gurney's celebrated play, Love Letters. The Hindi adaptation of Gurney's play, Tumhari Amrita, with Farooq Sheikh and Shabana Azmi as the two actors, completed 20 years earlier this year. Now, Puri is planning to stage it in his mother tongue, Punjabi.

At 62, the veteran actor sees the play as a stepping stone to a more productive innings on stage. He is forthright about why he is considering theatre once again: he says good roles for people his age are drying up in Bollywood. "I have slowed down, and I do not want to do stupid comedies, " he says. "I'd rather do small roles in good films. The rest of the time I will devote to theatre. "

With is no props and no need to memorise a script, Teri Amrita is an easy play to perform. The only two characters, Zulfiqar and Amrita, read out letters they have written to each other over the course of 35 years. It is a play that can be staged with minimal fuss, yet the story leaves the audience teary-eyed by the end. This is why Puri has chosen it as his comeback vehicle. "When a swimmer is returning to the water after 25 years, he will not be confident enough to go deep into the water. This play has simple sets, costumes and lighting. It is a good play to help me get back my confidence, " he says.

It was logistics that led him to choose a Punjabi play over Hindi or English. "Farooq Sheikh and Shabana Azmi have been performing the Hindi play and have the rights to it, so I chose to adapt it in Punjabi, the other language I know, " he says. Amrik Gill, who has written scripts for well-known Hindi and Punjabi films like Yaadein (2001) and Yaraan Naal Baharaan (2005), was roped for the translation while actress Divya Dutta, who is fluent in Punjabi, was asked to play the role of Amrita. Puri is producing and directing the play, and acts as Zulfi.

Despite his long absence from the stage, Om Puri is no stranger to theatre. Like many other accomplished actors, he cut his teeth doing plays first as a member of Punjab Kala Manch, a Patiala-based theatre company run by a renowned theatreperson, Harpal Tiwana, and later at the National School of Drama. He did plays regularly up to 1987 before getting too caught up with films. He even had his own drama company, Majma, with Naseeruddin Shah acting in several of its productions like Zoo Story and Waiting for Godot.

Puri now plans to revive Majma through which he plans to promote meaningful theatre. He seems disappointed at the kind of film roles Bollywood now offers. "I want to do good cinema and won't allow frustration to creep in, " he says. He points to Prakash Jha's last film, Chakravyuh, in which he had a small but significant role as a Maoist leader, as the kind of role he enjoys doing.

"I want to be a producer of good theatre and act in them as well, " he says. "I will do political plays, comedies, satires, but not cheap entertainment. " He hopes to do with theatre what he has not been able to do with films, which is to produce the kind of plays he likes. "I haven't been able to do that with films because it takes a lot of money, but I can do that here. "

The play has already been performed at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai and at the Rose Theatre in Brampton in Ontario, Canada. Shabana Azmi was one of the guests who turned up to watch the play. She later went over to congratulate Dutta, who essays Shabana's role. Dutta says that was an overwhelming experience. "Acting in this play has given me a chance to work with one of the finest actors in the country, " she adds. "And of course, Om Puri has a voice to die for. "

'Teri Amrita' is being staged on Dec 22 at the Shri Ram Centre at 6. 30 pm

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