Thursday, 5 November 2009



The first time Naseeruddin Shah saw the film starring Humphrey Bogart, he didn't understand much of it. “I was too small then for appreciating The Caine Mutiny Court Martial,” the veteran actor says about the screen adaptation of the novel written by Herman Wouck. But over the years, the story and the deeper meaning of this work became clearer to Shah, more so when he set out with his production of the stage play of this 1953 novel. Shah and his team of actors of the Motley Productions are now all set to bring their performance of this play to Pune on November 7, at the Ishaniya Amphitheatre, courtesy Entre Nous. The play will be directed by Shah, though he's not acting in any role this time.

“Usually, there's no specific reason for choosing a play. This play is no exception. But, there are few reasons for this production. Firstly, the quality of the production has improved now. The cast has become better. Secondly, I wanted the students at my acting school to act in such a production. It makes me happy to see these kids of average age of 25 to perform in such an intense play. I owe it to them,” Shah explains, adding, “They must be on their own, and the group must not exist depending on my identity”. Besides his students, actors Kenny Desai and Aseem Hattangadi will also be part of his production, he informs.

The play, in which one Lt Stephen Maryk of the fictional navy minesweeper USS Caine is tried on charges of questioning the sanity of the ship's commanding officer Captain Queeg. The Captain is disliked by the ship's crew for his arrogance and somewhat paranoid behaviour. “The play shows that no Army or military force can tolerate individualists. You need obeying soldiers who, sadly, are turned into killing machines,” Shah says about the storyline. “We haven't deviated from the original,” he adds.

The novel was written soon after the World War II. I ask Shah about the relevance of this work in 2009, especially in the South Asian context. “I am really not keen to think about this play in terms of its relevance,” he replies. “There can be no two opinions about the evil nature of a war, in any part of the world,” he adds. “War is inevitable. The point is what kind of people will fight that war”.

How does he defines this play? “I won't say it's another anti-war play. It's more about the human condition, the stress one goes through during a war,” the director says. “The question that this play asks is that whether one can retain sanity when he's involved in the insanity of war?” Shah adds. And this question has had its impact on Shah personally. “As I did the play, it gave me an insight about insanity,” he says. “Sometimes we go into, what I call, an 'alternative reality'. I am known to be an angry and arrogant person. I see no reason to deny that. But this play did help me realise that there were occasions when I could have transgressed that thin line which divides anger and insanity,” Shah adds.

In this production Shah won't be acting in any role. Which character he would have loved to play, I ask. Shah laughs. “All the characters in the play are my favourite. However, in the earlier productions, I had played the role of Captain Queeg. But now, I am content with not acting,” he replies. And if he were to choose between a stage production and directing a film, the stage would always get preference. “I don't think I am a good film director,” Shah says rather candidly.

When asked about his target audience for this play, Shah says this is for the “niche” audience. “We produce, act in and direct plays for the sheer joy of being part of a theatre. Therefore, making a play in English is very much valid, because English has become an Indian language. However, I have plans to produce this play in Marathi,” he affirms, before signing off.