MR & MR is a recently opened Hindi play adapted from Neil Simon's play THE ODD COUPLE, which premiered on Broadway in the mid-sixties, and has had successful film and television spin-offs since then. The present Indian version has been produced by Gautam Arya, and has been adapted by Ashna Arya. We talk to the production's director Harish Patel, who is a well-known actor, working across stage, television, and film. He has spent considerable time in the UK and has famously acted in the National Theatre's production of Ayub Khan-Din's RAFTA RAFTA, directed by Nicholas Hytner. We speak to Harish Patel about what it means to wear a director's hat, among other things.
By Deepa Punjani
Deepa Punjani (DP): Why did you decide to direct MR. & MR.?
Harish Patel (HP): In the months of October-November 2016, I was supposed to shoot for a TV show based on David Walliam's novel in Manchester. The shoot got postponed to February 2017. Gautam (Arya) and Ashna (Arya) were planning to stage MR & MR, a sensible, hilarious comedy. They found me sitting at home and offered me the job. I had no other alternative but to take up the challenge.
DP: How would you describe yourself as a director? Which are the things that you focus on and that are important to you?
HP: I am a very hard task master, the no nonsense kind. I demand total focus and professionalism from my team. While on the job, I do not get angry easily but once I do, any person involved with the play cannot sleep for weeks. I focus on readings of the play by the whole team at least 50 times before stepping on the floor. As a director the most important thing for me is to do justice to the play and to present the actors' weak points as their assets.
DP: It's been a long way since your Indian National Theatre (INT) days. Which was your first play? Who were the people you were working with at the time?
HP: I don't think the INT is active any more. My first play for the INT was in Hindi titled PREMSHASTRA, an adaptation of MOVE OVER, MRS. MARKHAM. I remember working with Laxmikant Karpe, Shafi Imnamdar, Kumud Bole, and Rafique Mukadam. The heart breaking thing was that even though we had grand rehearsals of the play, it never got an opening, for reasons best known to the INT.
DP: You also worked with Satyadev Dubey for a considerable period of time. How would you recall that phase?
HP: Working with Dubeyji was experiencing ''THEATRE''. I was showered with lots of praise by the British press for my performance in National Theatre's RAFTA, RAFTA. I submit that I would not have got all that praise without Dubeyji's teachings coupled with scoldings and the invaluable sharing of his knowledge of theatre.
DP: Come April, and you will be Friar Laurence in ROMEO AND JULIET, directed by theatre and opera director Daniel Kramer, and which will staged at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Is this a different experience for you?
HP: When Daniel discussed this project with me on Skype and offered me ''Friar Lawrence'', I was too happy. Can you imagine this happening to an actor who had studied in a reputed Hindi medium school (Marwari Vidyalaya) in Mumbai and who cannot converse fluently in English even after completing his graduation in Commerce from Mumbai University? I performed live in English as part of the main cast in RAFTA RAFTA at the UK's National Theatre in front of a highly knowledgeable British audience. Now I am preparing myself for an important role in a Shakespeare play! This can happen only in ''THEATRE''.
DP: You seem to be happier working in the UK. Is that a deliberate choice?
HP: I am happy working anywhere in the world where there are good people and good work. It's just a coincidence that I have found myself largely working in the UK with people like Roger Michelle, Kavin Loader, Nick Hytner, Richard Curtis, David Schwimmer, Simon Pegg and many others. However after completing each job I am always back to India, my ''Janam bhoomi'' but as of today, you can say the UK is my ''Karm bhoomi''.