Rakesh Bedi recently brought his play Mera Woh Matlab Nahi Tha to the capital. Accompanying the Chashme Buddoor actor were his theatre artistes Anupam Kher and Neena Gupta. The writer/director of the play, Bedi who has not only written and directed it, is also seen on the stage in regular intervals.

Bedi has been associated with this play for several years now, and wants to take it to more places. In an exclusive conversation with thestatesman.com, he said that theatre is more entertaining than movies, because some people are trying to entertain the audience in flesh and blood.

The director discussed the driving force behind his play and revealed why he casted Anupam Kher and Neena Gupta in lead roles. An elated Bedi, whose play has always gone houseful, also said that he never thought of casting himself as the protagonist in Mera Woh Matlab Nahi Tha and that Anupam Kher was always his first choice for the character of Pritam Chopra. Excerpts:

Your play has come to Delhi several times! What is the driving force behind it?

Well, the driving force is that I am behind it. (Laughs) No no, I was just joking. The driving force is the basic emotion of the play. That’s the first love. First love can happen at any age and if you meet that love at any point of time in life, all emotions rekindle and it reminds you of the time spent with that person. Those emotions can’t be suppressed. It stays within you forever and takes a second to ignite it. This is the main premise behind this play. The story is based in Lodhi Garden, Delhi. It is about two lovers who have spent their childhood together in Chandni Chowk.

They grew up together, they discovered that they were in love at the same time and were together in college. They wanted to get married, but something happened and both got separated in their own ways. They lead their own separate lives post that. Each kept thinking that the other one had ditched them. Now when they meet each other, the woman comes with positive emotions and says that one corner of my heart always told me that “you didn’t betray me”. So she wants to know what transpired, what went wrong. She is going out of this country forever, and wants to give him a clean chit before leaving. She doesn’t want to live under the burden that he is a bad man.

Why the name ‘Mera Woh Matlab Nahi Tha‘?

There are many connotations of this title about which, you will come to know once you watch the play. By at large at a basic level, both mean to say ‘Mera Woh Matlab Nahi Tha (I didn’t do that)”. Then there are many undertones to it.

Mera Woh Matlab Nahi Tha
A still from the play – Mera Woh Matlab Nahi Tha

Theatre has evolved over the years. Your comment

Lots! I’m very happy that today people are ready to pay any price to come and watch a play. In Delhi also, it’s happening now as I have seen a difference in the past eight to 10 years. It is a changed attitude in Delhiites that they want to come to the theatre and see a good play. It’s much more entertaining than a film because some people are trying to entertain you in flesh and blood. There can be nothing bigger than that. So, I think people understand this. Theatre hasn’t evolved much in small cities, but in places like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangaluru and Kolkata, people have given importance to theatre.

Why did you select only Anupam Kher and Neena Gupta for the titular roles? Didn’t you ever think of casting yourself in the protagonist’s role?

No, I never thought of playing the protagonist in the play. I felt the need of an actor who had star power, plus who had done a lot of theatre. Although, the star power dies after the curtains get raised in theatre, so I wanted someone from theatre background. One can’t bring his stardom to stage, you have to deliver, otherwise the audience will run away or will boo you. So I needed actors who were theatrically inclined, knew the depth and commitment of theatre and discipline. That’s why I got Anupam Kher and Neena Gupta on board. They are both from the National School of Drama (NSD) and they have read and done theatre initially. So that’s a big thing for me. As far as Anupam Kher is concerned, I did not narrate this play to anybody, because I wanted to do it with him only.

Mera Woh Matlab Nahi Tha
A still from the play – Mera Woh Matlab Nahi Tha

There were reports earlier that Anupam Kher wanted wife Kirron Kher to be cast opposite him in the play?

Yes, that was initially, but Kirron Ji was quite busy with politics and elections. Then we realised that she won’t be able to give the required commitment and time because theatre includes a lot of travel and you need a lot of time for rehearsals. And there is more commitment even after that. If the curtains have to be raised at 7, it will be done that way and there has to be no delay in doing that.

How many times do you rehearse for the play before actually performing it in front of the audience?

It has to be done a lot of times. Once or twice, all three of us do it together with each other. Then we keep rehearsing our lines every now and then. At several places both have their own monologues and soliloquy’s, so they keep on practicing them on their own.

Your play shows the spark between lovers who meet after many years and they rekindle their romance. Do you believe in first love?

Yes! I do very strongly.

Do you think that love can happen at any point of time regardless the age factor?

Love has nothing to do with age. There are many examples of people falling in love at the age of 90. There are also examples of 30-year-old women falling in love with a 50-year-old man and vice versa.

Do you think today’s youth is inclined towards theatre?

Whoever thinks even a little about theatre and want to do it, they are inclined towards this field, because they know that this can be their work station, this can be their place of shining. So there are such people. We performed a play recently and the capacity of that auditorium was around 1500-2000, and the tickets were all sold. Not a single seat was vacant. People from all age groups were present there, because when you see the play, you will find some or the other connect from the play with yourself. You might feel that you know this emotion, you have gone through it. It’s not because I have written it, as I have comic mind and am comically inclined. There is humour in the play. When you meet after 35 years, you don’t remember only the good things, but also talk about the mischievous moments.

READ ALSO: Mera Woh Matlab Nahi Tha: Of love, separation and reunion