Interview With Juhi Babbar Soni
Juhi Babbar Soni, a writer, director, and performer, talks to Mumbai Theatre Guide about the popularity of her most recent play, WITH LOVE AAP KI SAIYAARA, which recently finished 60+ performances. She also discusses how Mumbai Theatre Guide and Ekjute persuaded her to play SAIYAARA and on future stage projects with her husband Mr. Anup Soni.

 By MTG editorial

LOVE AAP KI SAIYAARA is a hit! Your thoughts on that...
God is so merciful, and I would just like to say that I believe SAIYAARA has received a ton of love over the past 16 to 17 months. I am extremely grateful and blessed for all of it.

How did SAIYAARA came about?
Back in 2013, Ekjute published a play called KISKE ROKE RUKA HAI SAVEERA that told the tale of three girls, one of which was Saiyaara. The fundamental outline was penned by my mother (Nadira Zaheer Babbar), but the character of Saiyaara was written and directed by myself, though we were not able to do many shows. I had never even considered performing online during lockdown, but Mumbai Theatre Guide contacted me about doing so. In JI, JAISI AAPKI MARZI, I had no trouble playing Babli, but Ravi Mishra, who is connected to the Ekjute Theatre, insisted that I play Saiyaara. But I reasoned, "It's been seven years since I played Saiyaara." Depending on the situation, Saiyaara could have a certain impact, however Bhavik Shah and Ravi Mishra persuaded me to perform it online. The most views have been recorded since its release on June 13, 2020. MTG deserves praise for doing that.

60+ shows in quick time. How difficult was to perform SAIYAARA especially back to back shows?
An enormous amount of credit goes to Mumbai Theatre Guide for this because, just as things were beginning to pick up after the lockdown, we were informed that only small production companies were permitted in theatres because 50% of the audience was allowed in them. At that time, Ekjute used to perform large plays like SALAAM... 1950s KE NAAM, Ekjute productions were always very expansive, and that's when I realised that SAIYAARA needed to be changed.The stage play must be rewritten because SAIYAARA also discusses the Covid period, what she went through, and how her life was during the lockdown. The web drama SAIYAARA is just 45 minutes long. People therefore felt a strong connection to SAIYAARA. Despite the play's powerful and preachy message, it is nonetheless entertaining. I feel wonderful when I observe several people enjoying this performance.

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Ekjute has completed 40+ years and is known for Plays Like SALAAM... 1950s KE NAAM, DAYASHANKAR KI DIARY, SAKUBAI, BEGUM JAAN and others, how different SAIYAARA is from other plays?
My mother (Ms. Nadira Zaheer Babbar), who is very much an influence on my work. She writes in a really entertaining manner that is also quite socially responsible. That's what she stands for. If you work in the arts, it will be your role to amuse others. However, you should also be a responsible artist and have a societal responsibility to portray via your work. That is continued in SAIYAARA, and I believe it is crucial that we all adapt to the times. Ekjute has done this by incorporating technology and changing the characters and performance style. While this is different from what Ekjute has traditionally offered, SAIYAARA still embodies what Ekjite has stood for over the years, albeit in more contemporary form.

SAIYAARA not only performed in Mumbai but all over India...
Yes, Yes, Yes, (smiles) - We are quite lucky that SAIYAARA has received invitations from media outlets, state governments, universities, and organisations for women in addition to the theatres in Mumbai. So, 60+ shows have been completed.

So... Will SAIYAARA hit 100 in quick time?
Yes.... With the blessings of my parents, God and my audiences, I feel 100 is not too far now.

What has theatre thought you?
I've learned a lot about theatre. I used to be a totally different person, but ever since I started working in the theatre, it has helped me become more patient, peaceful, and understanding of other people. I've conducted numerous workshops with kids, and it has been one experience that has greatly benefited me as a theatrical professional and artiste since I was able to contact with and work with the purest emotions. In a youngster, there is no corruption and no balance. When a youngster is the subject of an artiste's work, the feelings are 100 percent real.

Is SAIYAARA writing something else?
Naturally, the play's SAIYAARA is also a writer; she is the author of the book WITH LOVE, AAP KI SAIYAARA. Many people are inquiring when SAIYAARA Part 2 will be released. I do feels a lot of strain since people are continuously asking me, "What comes next?" and I am a little bit apart from SAIYAARA. There are many things going on, but no matter what I do, the audience blesses me just like they did SAIYAARA.

Your husband Anup Soni has been in theatre for a long time and currently he's performing a play called MY WIFE'S 8th VACHAN. Will we be able to see both together on stage?
We met, grew closer, and were married as a result of our stage work together. He participated in BEGUM JAAN, a play in which my mother and I both had roles. My mother directed the play PENCIL SE BRUSH TAK based on the life of M.F. Hussain, and I also performed in it. He has graduated from NSD and is maintaining his stage career after NSD, whilst others move to a 70 mm screen. He is currently performing in two plays, one of which being MY WIFE'S 8TH VACHAN, and I'm happy to report that audiences are praising it.

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