A Stage for Cinema
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Theatre and cinema came together at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa when a play called Dada Saheb – A Journey – A Quest was staged on Wednesday. This is the first time that IFFI, which celebrates Indian and international cinema, has included theatre in its line-up. Dada Saheb recreates important events in the life of the father of Indian cinema — Dadasaheb Phalke — through a dialogue between two protagonists. The play was staged at IFFI's Kala Academy venue with many Indian and international filmmakers present among the 800-strong audience.
"Cinema is a powerful medium in terms of reach and visuals, so this play also came as a big challenge," says Hyderabad-based theatre actor-director Mohammad Ali Baig, who created the production in less than a month. He recalls how IFFI director Shankar Mohan had approached him to stage the play during the Indian Panorama film festival, of which Baig was a jury member, in October. "He gave me a biography of Phalke called The Silent Film, written by his great grand niece Sharayu Phalke Summanwar. She also adapted the text into a theatre script for us, compressing the biography into a 20-minute-long dialogue between Dadasaheb and his second wife, Saraswati," says Baig. He decided to stage Dada Saheb in English since there would be a multilingual audience at IFFI.
Baig essays the role of Phalke, while Lillete Dubey plays Saraswati. "As a tribute to Phalke's era, we kept everything on stage — from the sets and flooring to the props and jewellery — in black and white," he adds. Against this nostalgic backdrop, Phalke and Saraswati talk about his experiences in cinema such as watching Life of Jesus Christ in a tent at Chowpatty in Mumbai, searching for a film camera in India and making his first film, Raja Harishchandra. The narrative also touches upon the death of Phalke's first wife and his children due to an epidemic in Godhra. In one scene, he espouses his love for Saraswati, only to be told by her that his real love is cinema.