Imran Rasheed Interview
He never wanted to be an actor but fate had other plans. Not only did he become one, he also turned director and writer. Hailing from a small city called Bulandshahr in UP where one had no access to theatre, Imran Rasheed went to Aligarh where he discovered the magical world of theatre.

Imran has come a long way since then. With plays like BADE MIYA DEEWANE, PURA EK DIN, PITRAS KA RAS, ROSHNAI KA SAFAR, PIYA BEHRUPIA and PHIR SE SHAADI, he has made a mark in Hindi theatre. Imran is currently acting in MARRIAGE-O-LOGY, ISMAT MANTO HAZIR HAI, DUDE BHAGWAN ZINDA HAI, AAJ RANG HAI, KHWAAB SA.

 By Jahnavi Pal

Sharing his theatre journey Imran Rasheed recalls, "I hadn't ever thought I would be an actor or a director or even a writer. " I grew up in Bulandshahr and then went to Aligarh where I began doing some theatre. But I must confess I didn't know what theatre was until then. All I knew was that when I was in class eight I had gone to Delhi and had met a distant relative who did street theatre. I was intrigued as I found all of them very interesting. I was attracted to this form of art and hence joined Drama Club. I remember going to NSD once where I saw QAID-E-HAYAAT, a play on Mirza Ghalib, and it looked like a film to me, so I resolved to do theatre. But despite doing theatre in Aligarh I had no clue that this could lead to films."

Imran then came to Mumbai and joined Nadira Babbar's Ekjute and he hasn't looked back ever since. He spent almost six years with her when he did everything from making tea, to working backstage and also acting. " I was a nobody when I joined her. I stayed with her continuously and followed her all the while. I would observe her and learnt a lot from her. It was then that I wrote my first play, MANDIR MASJID, which she liked and encouraged me to write and direct. I then wrote ROSHNAI KA SAFAR which I wrote and directed. And this is how my journey in theatre really began. "
Imran soon launched Rangbaaz, his theatre group and wrote and directed his first play, a comedy BADE MIYA DEEWANE which was a hit. Having worked with some of the finest talents on stage like Nadira Babbar, Naseerudin Shah, Manav Kaul, Makrand Deshpande, Sunil Shanbag, Imran says he learnt it all from Nadira Babbar. "I can say she was the best teacher. It was she who groomed and moulded me. It was because of her that decided to be serious about theatre. Until then I had done plays that were only 30 minutes long and we performed just one show. But when I joined her I saw plays like BEGUM JAAN that have been running for decades , also Naseerudin's play WAITING FOR GODOT has been on for years and this took me by surprise. I started enjoying this art form and its magic. I have become what I wanted to become. Now all I have to do is perform to the best of my ability."

Imran is quick to add that if Nadira was his best teacher he learnt a lot from several others as well. He adds that it's not easy getting into the skin of the character. " In fact often it's after several shows that I understand the play! I believe that often even auditions are superficial. One just reads the lines and performs without understanding the depth of the role."

Coming to PHIR SE SHAADI, which is being revived after the lockdown, he says, " All my plays are inspired from the land I come from. The stories, the backdrop and the characters are all taken from UP. PHIR SE SHAADI too is based on a real life incident in Aligarh which I developed into a play. It focuses on the Islamic law halala which I have interpreted in my own understanding."

Imran says that some of his all-time favourite roles are the ones he played in Nadira's plays or his role in ISMAT MANTO HAAZIR HAI, Sunil Shanbag's plays and Manav Kaul's plays. " I enjoy working with Naseerudin Sir as he is a very stubborn director. He pushes the actor to go beyond the character and so does Nadiraji. But Nadiraji does this only with actors who she thinks will perform. If she thinks the actor has talent she will get him to push his limits. I love working under the direction of Sunil Shanbag and Atul Kumar. They are brilliant. It was a dream come true to be working with them. It so happened that they saw my work and asked me to work with them. This was a blessing."

Throwing light on the future of Hindi plays in metros, Imran says he is optimistic. "Hindi plays have a good future. Years ago, however, good plays rarely ran to full houses. Now almost all of Nadiraji's plays are Housefull. This is a big change as many other directors too draw a packed house. Of course Gujarati and Marathi plays do command huge audiences and there is no comparison. The sad part is that actors from Hindi plays move on to films and do not return. There are a few exceptions like Paresh Rawal or Naseerudin Shah but most do not look back. Still, I have hope for the performing arts as this is one form of art that will never die. Though audiences may not have multiplied they haven't diminished as well.

"But what ails Hindi theatre, " he continues, "is the lack of growth in audiences. It hasn't yet reached audiences as much as regional plays have reached their target audiences. Another aspect is that just as Marathi theatre and cinema have merged as actors get absorbed in both the mediums it doesn't happen in Hindi theatre. I have no clue why good Hindi film actors do not attempt theatre. This bridge needs to be built. In fact if they come to theatre, they will also command good money. They should help Hindi theatre grow."

PAANWALI KOTHI is Imran's next offering which he is writing, directing and acting but due to the uncertainties of Covid he is not sure when the play will see the light of the day.

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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