Naseeruddin Shah has been a prominent actor in the film and theatre fraternity. His theatre group, Motley, kicked off in the late 70s with the Samuel Beckett play, Waiting for Godot, directed by Benjamin Gilani. Almost 40 years later, Motley is now performing another international play, this time by Florian Zeller. Le Père or The Father was written by the French playwright back in 2012 and also won a Molière Award (national theatre award of France) for Best Play. The play was later translated into English by Christopher Hampton to be staged in other parts of the world. In India, it is being performed for the first time by Motley, with Naseeruddin Shah in the lead role.
The Father explores the struggles of a man dealing with amnesia. Andre (Naseer), an old retired police officer, is visited by his daughter Ann (played by Ratna Pathak Shah), who is worried about his deteriorating health. Andre’s nurse Isabelle quit her job after his insufferable tantrums. Anxious about leaving him alone, Ann moves Andre to her flat, where she lives with her husband Pierre. The entire play is depicted through Andre’s perspective, with various flashes of events that may or may not have taken place. We step into the mind of an amnesiac, where a thin line separates the ludicrous from the pathetic. Other actors in the play include Heeba Shah, Aahana Kumra, Bhavna Pani, Faizal Rashid, Trishla Patel, Prerna Chawla, and Jaya Virlley in recurring roles.
Naseer is always a delight to watch on stage. Even in The Father, as an amnesiac whose health is not getting any better, the veteran actor invokes many emotions within you. You feel bad for him but you also despise him for troubling those around him. He also manages to make you laugh with his charming ways. Naseer is the star of this play and you cannot take your eyes off him when he is on stage. Very comfortable in his role, Naseer is a natural in whatever character he plays. The rest of the cast has a tough job of keeping up with this star performer but they rise up to the challenge. Ratna Pathak Shah is in every way his other half, as she is the only other character who manages to derive any emotion from the audience. Her pain can be felt by anyone who has dealt with a difficult parent and she emerges as the true hero here. The other actors keep swooping in and out several times, but Neeraj Kabi stays the most memorable in his role as Pierre. He is charming, confident and even steals the moment from Naseer in one of the scenes.
Naseeruddin Shah got the idea of staging The Father after Paresh Rawal – another prominent Bollywood and theatre actor – saw a performance of the same in the US and urged Naseer to take it up. The next thing Shah did was book the Experimental Theatre in the NCPA for the entire month of September. Shows are being staged every day as you read this, with only a day off every week. Next, Motley plans to perform at Prithvi Theatre in the months of October and November with no gaps. The two venues were chosen since they give the audience a 360º view of the stage, which is exactly what Naseer wanted. The play is performed for audiences seated on all four sides, looking into what looks like a floor plan with a minimal set design. As Andre’s condition deteriorates in the play, the set becomes smaller, metaphorically aligning to the state of his mind. Even the props used are imaginary, with sound effects to follow their use.
While shows are set to run until the end of the year, tickets are being sold out by the minute. Theatre goers definitely do not want to miss this play but many filmy fans are also making their way to the NCPA to watch the legendary Naseeruddin Shah on stage. So hurry and book for The Father now, and enjoy another great Motley production.