Happy Deepavali to everyone! Centred around this year’s Festival of the Lights is the Kalaa Utsavam, the Indian Festival of the Arts that has been around since 2003 though it’s current scale appears hard to imagine in 2003. Starting off as a 3 day festival, it has since grown into a 10 day extravaganza that presents a carefully curated selection of artistic performances by acclaimed Indian artists from Singapore and the region. Among the varied performances, the one that I am most looking forward to has to be The Good, The Bad and The Sholay. Part of it is undeniably due to the fact that having just watched The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, I’m desperately hoping that this would be an Indian theatre remake complete with the classic Mexican standoff. The other reason has to be Ghafir Akbar. I have seen Ghafir Akbar in numerous plays this year, from the not so great Public Enemy to the middling Hotel and the incredible Another Country, the only constant in these 3 plays is the charisma of Ghafir Akbar. With that in mind, I was very excited to have a little chat with him about his upcoming role in The Good, The Bad and The Sholay.
Having seen him in 3 plays alone this year, I always had the impression that he’s been a long standing part of Singapore theatre but alas how wrong I was. Contrary to my belief, this year is his first year working in Singapore (surprise surprise) and before Singapore, he was active in both Malaysia as well as the United States. Though I have my own favourite Ghafir Akbar role of 2015, I was curious as to what he felt was his favourite role. Those (including myself) looking for a definite answer will be let down though he makes up for it by succinctly summarizing what Singapore theatre has been like this year. “I have enjoyed sharing stories about Singapore and for Singaporeans. The arts scene this year seems to be dedicated to rediscovering Singapore’s history and voices, and to me that has been the most exciting part.” This extends to the upcoming The Good, The Bad and The Sholay where the audience will have the perfect opportunity to experience life through the eyes of a group of people that we rarely consider or think about – “the many people who come to Singapore to study and work.”
Ghafir Akbar (L) and Pavan J. Singh (R)
Though the play will not be any remake of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, it will instead draw on another film, Sholay which serves as a huge inspiration to its protagonist, Raghav. For those who have never heard of Sholay, do a simple Google search and be amazed at what you find. Released in 1975, it has since cemented itself not only as an Indian classic but also one of the the best Indian films; it was actually ranked 1st in the British Film Institute’s 2002 poll of “Top 10 Indian Films” of all time. Fans of this Indian classic will definitely be in for a treat, explains Ghafir, “our protagonist, Raghav, in The Good, the Bad and the Sholay draws parallel to the characters and plot from the movie against his own coming-of-age journey. So, the movie is seen through the point of view of Raghav. It is not a re-enactment, rather it is a reflection of his own life.” This should be familiar arc to fans of the film, just as films such as The Godfather or Citizen Kane has had a huge impact and influence on the Western world, so too does Sholay do for India. “It truly transcends age and was reflective of the time of India’s history. Millions of people have watched this movie (it continues to play in cinemas) and each person has a memory that is associated to it and what it means to them.”
The Good, The Bad and The Sholay will definitely not be a one man show which makes me pretty excited to check out the rest of the cast as well. “It’s an ensemble piece. So the eight of us will be playing multiple roles throughout the performance. But we do take on some specific roles in the larger story. I play ‘Jai’ – a character from the movie Sholay and ‘Rajat’ the younger brother of the protagonist in the parallel story in this play.” Sholay has the status of a cult classic which means that behind the film is undoubtedly a rabid fan base with a rabid passion for ensuring that their precious film not be ruined in anyway. This little snippet of news should be able to reassure you that the actors and director have seen the film, “we spent part of a rehearsal watching and studying the movie.”
Ghafir Akbar (L) and Kubhaer T. Jethwani (R)
Interestingly, the play has been staged before in 2011 thus I was definitely curious as to what would make this edition different from the original. First is the obvious change, the cast. “It’s a brand new cast except for one (Kubhaer T. Jethwani). Shiv Tandan (the playwright), who had performed in the original 2011 production, is now co-directing the play with Huzir Sulaiman.” The change in cast goes beyond seeing different faces but also in how the play will be presented, “we each share our own point of view towards the movie, the play and the characters.” Fascinatingly, this will not be a case where Eddie Redmanye becomes an absolute chameleon and plays characters completely different from him, a la Stephen Hawking and Einar Wegener. “What’s interesting is that most of the cast has gone through some variation of the journey Raghav takes in the play. We’ve all been in new places, experience a new life, and come back home to see a change.”
While my interest in The Good, The Bad and The Sholay has definitely been piqued, I was also curious about Ghafir Akbar himself. I openly confess to being an admirer of his talent as an actor and am eager to see him in more diverse roles and following this train of thought leads to the question of what are some of his ideal roles to play or dream roles. However, similar to his favourite 2015 role, there is no fixed answer, instead a thought provoking one that made my simple question appear foolish. “I think this constantly evolves because society constantly evolves. I would like to stay connected to creating work that reflects the history I am in. I am dedicated to telling our stories, even if that means redefining western classics. Therefore, I am inspired by any director, writer or artist that shares that same vision.”
For those interested in catching Ghafir Akbar in The Good, The Bad and The Sholay, you can find out more here! The play will be running for an incredibly limited time only (26-29 Nov) so get your tickets now!!!
Photos courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre. Photo credit: Mish’aal.