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Adhir Bhat: From a refugee to a playwright

Adhir Bhat: From a refugee to a playwright

In the past ten years, Adhir Bhat has done more than 45 productions in Hindi, English and Urdu, as playwright and actor. He has to his credit, the Mahindra award winning plays, ‘Dhumrapan’ (as writer) and ‘Gasha’ (actor and story), well-received plays such as ‘Sometimes’,Internal Affairs’, ‘Kaand’, ‘Gaa Re Maa’, ‘Salaam Noni Aapa’ (based on Twinkle Khanna’s short story), and is working on three plays. “ I take pride in being a writer doing original work and being able to work in multiple media.”

Bhat hails from Kashmir; the family had to move out when militancy started and live as refugees. “For over a year, we went from house to house, I went from school to school, hoping things would improve and we could go back. Then, our house was burnt, and there was no way of returning. I studied at various boarding schools. I remember doing Standard IV in three cities. I think it was at boarding schools that I came across many of the characters I use in my scripts.”

He does not let the anger and bitterness of the experience reflect in his work. Only Gasha, which he did not write, told a part of his story. “I always try to look at the bright side of life. Even when militancy was at its peak, I found respite in films. I always thought, creativity is something that can take you into another plane; it’s not just for fame and money. Comedy has always appealed to me. I try to write things that are poignant but still funny . Although now the demand for writers is so high that I do all kinds of writing — cop drama, relationship drama, and of course, comedy. To write serious plays, you need to be a mature writer, which I am now, after the amount of work I have done. I can tackle darkness better now.”

When he moved to Mumbai, Bhat assisted filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra for a while. “Then I started acting on stage. I always used to write Urdu poetry, and I realised I could write scripts too. People in Mumbai can’t write very well in Hindi or Urdu.So it turned out to be good for me. I started writing more and more. I write fast, I am very disciplined and I can do multiple projects at a time. Meanwhile, my English plays started doing well and I thought I could dabble in it too.”

Mumbai theatre scene

He met theatre producer, director and actor Akarsh Khurana when they were both studying at Mumbai’s St. Xavier’s College and became friends. “Later when I was with Chopra, Akarsh was working with Rakesh Roshan, I bumped into him at Bangalore airport. He asked me to write plays; and I did three short plays for a collection called ‘Super 8’. He encouraged me to write more and we started working together. Till then, I thought I could not write, and hid my poems. But after this, I took up films, television, web series…but I keep coming back to theatre, because it offers a certain autonomy, which is not available in other media. In theatre, we can experiment and do things we would not be otherwise allowed to do. In theatre, we can fail gloriously and that is a great thing. I always tell people that the opposite of success is not failure, it is inaction. Theatre does not allow you to be inactive. In theatre, you have to prove your craft every time. A lot of us who are part of Mumbai’s theatre, there is a great camaraderie amongus. We keep suggesting each other’s names for projects, we look out for each other.”

Bhat’s early plays were with Akarsh Khurana, because he found he could discuss ideas and “jam” with him. “Sometimes got written because we both had a very unproductive meeting in Dehradun; Dhumrapan because he wanted something on office politics.” Of late, he has written for directors such as Lillete Dubey (“she is so young at heart”) and Anahita Uberoi.

“A lot of Ideas come to me while travelling, so I always carry a notebook to jot them down. The subjects of my plays are all different, that takes me out of my comfort zone and pushes me, so that I don’t get complacent. And I think, comfort is a bigger hindrance to your progress than fear.”

Now that he has his writing schedules under control, Bhat says he will do a lot more acting next year, “but,” he adds, “writing suits my temperament more.” He does not like partying much, reads a lot, and writes something every day, even when there is no deadline.

“In Mumbai, you cannot sit quiet and say you will write only when you are inspired. There are too many things to take into consideration, such as actors and auditions. I never mess up with deadlines. I always deliver on time. Basketball taught me discipline. If a writer is hardworking and disciplined and less talented, he will do better than the one who has a lot of talent, and no discipline.”

Minimising negativity is his mantra. “I always try to be in a state of equilibrium because a lot ofrash and bad decisions happen when you are not happy. Also, I work on myself mentally, because of the amount of rejection we face in this line of work. We are constantly being judged, so if you are weak-hearted or have low self-esteem, you cannot be here.”

The author is a Mumbai-based critic and columnist

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