‘I’m a rest less Actor’

Lillete Dubey’s company, Primetime Theatre, has completed 25 years. The actor talks to Shrabasti Mallik about the goals with which she had set up the company and directing a play based on a story by actor-turned-author Twinkle Khanna

“Theatre speaks to me,” she says; and I believe her. With over three decades of experience, Lillete Dubey is an actor who loves being on stage more than in front of the camera. Even though she has had some memorable roles in movies such as Monsoon Wedding, The Lunchbox and Kal Ho Naa Ho, she finds the utmost satisfaction when she brings a character to life in a play. As we speak to her about her latest directorial venture, Salaam, Noni Appa, we realise that she is as passionate about theatre today as she was in college. Excerpts from the conversation: Tell us about your engagement with theatre.

When I was in college, I had worked with Barry John’s company, Theatre Action Group, along with Siddharth Basu, Ravi Dubey [her late husband] and several other noteworthy people. There, I was just playing the lead actor and did not delve into production or direction. But I always wanted to set up my own theatre company, which I did in the early 1990s.

Primetime Theatre Company has completed 25 years. In what way has it brought about a change in the Indian theatre scene?

I set up Primetime with two primary aims. The first was to do more plays written in English by Indian playwrights – plays that were Indian in spirit, thought and culture. Also, I felt we should find our own body of work rather than adapt popular international plays, because any theatre company in the world can and will do them – be it Shakespeare, the Greek tragedies or the classics. But only we [Indians] would stage an Indian play written in English. My second aim was to take these plays around the world, because I wanted to see how an Indian theatre production is accepted by an international audience, that may not be aware of Indian theatre veterans such as Girish Karnad or Vijay Tendulkar.

When you choose to work on a play, what is it that you look for in the story?

We choose plays we believe people will relate to – be it with the characters, situations or relationships.

The plays might be Indian but the themes are universal. So whether a play tells a story of child abuse in India (Thirty Days in September) or delves into the subjects of art and gender classification (Dance Like a Man), we have received encouraging reviews internationally.

Have you ever worked on a script not written by an Indian?

Once every few years, I do a play which is different – a play where the plot is so strong that socio-cultural references and geography become irrelevant. The best example is August: Osage County, the story of a dysfunctional family set in Oklahoma, the US. The relationships between the family members are so relatable that the setting becomes secondary. I have set the story in Goa, keeping everything else the same, and it is just as amazing!

How did you come to direct Salaam, Noni Appa?

For some time now, I have had the urge to do sensible comedy – something humorous. When I read Salaam, Noni Appa, one of the stories from the book, The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, written by Twinkle Khanna, I knew I had found the content for my next directorial venture. It is a delightful story about an autumn romance; a story about hope and the unpredictability of life.

What appealed to you about the story?

Noni Appa is close to my age and I can relate to her personally, because she, too, has lost her husband. This play has made me realise that if you have the courage to seize the opportunities that come your way, you will be surprised at how much life has to offer, because life doesn’t really stop until your last day.

Why don’t we see you in movies more often?

I am a restless actor – a reason why I find Hindi cinema constraining. In theatre, we get to work with characters that have a lot of depth.

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