Juhi Babbar is a new bride, but she has barely had the time to celebrate. She has been spending the whole of last month running around to organise the ten-day festival celebrating three decades of Ekjute — a theatre group started by her mother Nadira Zaheer Babbar.
The group has been relentlessly working to create quality, entertaining content for Hindi theatre and has seen actors like Anupam Kher, Kiron Kher, Sushmita Mukherjee and Satish Kaushik perform on stage under its banner.
“I literally grew up with Ekjute,” says Juhi Babbar. Her earliest memory of Ekjute is a special one. Her brother Arya was born on the night when the nascent theatre group was staging an adaptation of a play by Russian playwright Maxim Gorky.
“When my dad [film star-turned-MP Raj Babbar] went to see my mother, instead of asking whether her baby was healthy and fine, she asked if the play went well,” remembers Juhi. “My father joked that he’d just name the child Gorky.” The nickname stuck. Arya ‘Gorky’ Babbar, who is as old as Ekjute, is now a Hindi film actor, but he also works with the group. He has directed Gorky Plus Chintu Ke Karnaame which will be staged at the fest.
“Ekjute is all about Hindi theatre but with changing times, we have branched into bilingual and Hinglish plays with our branch ‘Performers’,” says Juhi. “These plays will have youth appeal.” Her younger brother’s is the first of such multi-lingual plays. “It’s the story of two Siamese twins who are wannabe detectives. It’s a mad play. Kids and adults alike will enjoy it.”
The ‘Ekjute 30 Years Caravan’ opened last week with Bollywood ka Salaam 1950s Ke Naam, a musical extravaganza complete with film songs from the era. “Bhanu Athaiya has designed the costumes and MF Husain did the posters since in the 1950s that was his profession. The play is like watching a black and white film on stage!” says Juhi.
Juhi herself acts in most of the plays, but her own stage debut was quite spontaneous. “Ekjute was staging Chandanpur ki Champabai, which was an adaptation of Brecht’s The Good Woman of Setzuan, and Kiron Maasi [Kher] was portraying Champabai. There was a scene in which Champabai dreams of her own daughter and sings to her. The daughter sings back to her. Kiron was supposed to do the singing for both characters, and she was rehearsing. Suddenly she suggested to my mum that I do the part and bam! I was on stage,” says Juhi. “I remember wearing a very ordinary frock and I clearly remember the blue lights on me.”
Over the years, Juhi believes, theatre inIndiahas come a long way in gaining acceptance across the board. “Every art form takes its own time to find a place and an audience in society. Take live concerts, for example. Ten years ago they weren’t such a rage, but now look at the opportunities in reality TV shows, weddings and concerts!”
She adds that unlike cinema, theatre is not a commercial art form and hence it is always tough to balance the commercial aspect. “There are theatre groups who do purely commercial plays, and they have solid partnerships and sponsorships backing them. Ekjute believes in striking a balance between both. Even the funniest of our plays have a social message subtly hidden in them. It is Nadiraji’s ideology that a play should have a balance of entertainment, social awareness and quality.”
What helps, however, is the increased mingling between film and theatre groups. “So many theatre actors are now popular film actors. When they come back to theatre, they bring a popular awareness about it and it gets a larger audience interested in theatre,” says Juhi.
Over the past few years, Ekjute has managed to strike the right chord by getting known faces like Tom Alter and Sarita Joshi involved with the group. “We are always begging and pleading with actors to come back to theatre for this reason,” says Juhi. “It helps to attract more audiences and talent to theatre.”
While bringing more people to theatre, these actors also make it easier for organisers to rope in sponsors. This year, Ekjute has managed to tie up with some brands for the festival. Babbar agrees that while it is still a struggle, it has become easier to find sponsors over the last decade.
During the ten-day festival, Ekjute will stage close to 24 of its running productions. Most are highly recommended. “It’s hard for me to recommend any single play,” says the actress, “but try not to miss Begum Jaan, Dayashankar ki Diary, Yaar Bana Buddy and Bollywood Ka Salaam 1950 Ke Naam.”
Originally published on www.dnaindia.com