'Aarohi is full of layers and nuances': Director Salim Akhtar on his latest theatre production

Theatre Director Salim Akhtar takes us through the journey of his latest production Aarohi and tells how Meeta Vasisht helped him complete the play

Heena Khandelwal Published :  29th June 2019 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  29th June 2019 12:00 AM

In photo: Gautam Rode, Dhaani Jhankal and Meeta Vasisht

The latest production by theatre director Salim Akhtar explores the life of a Kathak dancer, Aarohi, who falls in love with a man only to find him bringing down what she revered the most - her dance. Hurt by the deception and engulfed by her own guilt, she finds herself at a crossroad where she has to decide between living in fear or facing the skeletons of her past.

“Aarohi belongs to Lucknow Gharana and Kathak means a lot to her but when you get caught up with your emotions, you tend to lose the vision and the grip on your life and this is what the story is all about - how she realises her mistakes in the past and finds her way ahead in life,” tells Akhtar and immediately adds, “It is not just a journey of finding yourself but it also focuses on the human relationships and the layers in which humans work. It also sheds light on how it is important to understand where you went wrong and how can it be corrected and then allowing yourself time to heal. There are many layers to this character and it is not just a plain journey.”

Akhtar had this story on his mind for a long time but about two years ago when he met Anita Ordia, the producer of the play, who suggested doing something together, he instantly knew his subject. “I gave her a one-line outside and she immediately agreed saying she has also received training from Lucknow and Jaipur Gharana, which further cemented my vision for the play as now, I knew I would be able to bring the element of Kathak properly into the play,” adds Akhtar about Ordia, who is a disciple of Padam Vibhushan Birju Maharaj as well as Lt. Pt. Durga Lal Ji.

A still from the play Aarohi

However, the play wasn’t just about Kathak. His protagonist Aarohi, played by debutante Dhaani Jhankal (younger Aarohi) and seasoned actress Meeta Vasisht (older Aarohi), was a very layered character and it took time for him to make the writers understand that. “The layers that I am talking about took time for my writers to understand and that took a toll on the play. I started working with Ashok Mishra, then called upon Era Tak on board who helped me with some dialogues and then Narendra Gupta also helped me with certain parts but it wasn’t falling in place as I thought it would. Finally, I could get it all together with Meeta (Vasisht) because, with her, I could finally bring everything that I wanted… the kind of layering that my character needed, I could explain it to her and she got it right as well. In fact, she added more nuances to it. Besides, she has learnt Kathak dance and she also sings very well, which was very beneficial to my character,” he adds. 

“When I came on the board about three weeks ago, his vision and the writing on the paper weren’t in sync. Although there was a lot of written material, it wasn’t taking the shape of a play. Besides the hook was missing,” says Vasisht, a graduate from National School of Drama who has done significant work in television, theatre and cinema in her career that spans over three decades. 

Interestingly, she also brought on the board the knowledge of Kathak and Thumri, which she had learnt 28 years ago for her movie Siddheshwari, a documentary by Mani Kaul on Hindustani classical music singer Siddheshwari Devi. “Life came to full circle here as I was performing the Thumri that I had mugged for Siddheshwari. In the early 1980s, I went to Delhi for a three-month course at Kathak Kala Kendra for my film and it there that I learnt Kathak and Thumri from Kathak maestro Geetanjali Lal,” she adds.

Now that the play has been tied well, an elated Akhtar says, “I am a man of nuances, I like my nuances correct, I like nuances of my actors correct.”

The play that also features Gautam Rode and Ravi Jhankal will open tonight at 7:30 pm at St. Andrew’s Auditorium, Bandra.