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The return of Zeenat Aman

  • The actor is headlining her first stage production in 16 years.
  • Zeenat Aman plays Kasturba Gandhi in ‘Dearest Bapu, Love Kasturba’

(top) Zeenat Aman in ’Dearest Bapu, Love Kasturba’ with Arif Zakaria; and in ‘Haré Rama Haré Krishna’.
(top) Zeenat Aman in ’Dearest Bapu, Love Kasturba’ with Arif Zakaria; and in ‘Haré Rama Haré Krishna’.

The last time Zeenat Aman appeared in a play was as Mrs Robinson, the knowing older woman who sleeps with Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate. That was in 2004. Now, she’s returning to the stage as Kasturba Gandhi, wife of Mohandas Gandhi, in Saif Hyder Hasan’s Dearest Bapu, Love Kasturba. The play, which Aman is headlining with Arif Zakaria, is part of The Great Indian Theatre Festival; after its premiere in Mumbai on 21 February, it is travelling to six other cities (it plays again in Mumbai on 22 March).

Aman laughs when I ask her about the leap she’s making. “There she was in this short skirt, with her cigarette holder, seducing this young boy," she says. “So this is completely different." We are at the Bookmyshow office—the company is producing the multi-city festival along with presenters RBL Bank—in Andheri, Mumbai. This is the 68-year-old actor’s second interview of the day, with several more to come. Before it starts, she gamely sits for a photoshoot, punctuated by changes of eyewear.

Hasan conceived the play as featuring three wives—Kasturba, Kamala Nehru and Umrao Begum, Mirza’s Ghalib’s wife—before narrowing it down to Kasturba. He wrote it as a solo performance and approached Aman, who was initially daunted. “For somebody who hadn’t done theatre in so long, to see such a thick script… I went, ‘oh my’. But it was a great opportunity because cinematically I have had a very different image." Hasan reworked it as a two-person play and cast Zakaria. It unfolds as a dialogue between the couple, with Kasturba’s spirit writing letters to her husband.

Every year on 30 January, the day of Mohandas Gandhi’s death, there are reports of extreme right-wing groups honouring his assassin, Nathuram Godse. A concurrent trend is the attempted mainstreaming of Godse by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its affiliates. Terror-accused Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member Pragya Thakur called Godse a patriot in Parliament; Anantkumar Hegde, also a BJP MP, declared Gandhi’s involvement in the freedom struggle a “drama". This makes the very act of staging a play about Gandhi a political statement—but the makers seemed wary of wading into controversy (as were their handlers, who asked us to avoid political questions). “The play talks about Gandhi in a very apolitical way. Politics is there as a backdrop," Hasan tells us. Aman chimes in: “It’s really about their relationship."

I ask Aman, who is best known for her glamorous turns in 1970s films like Yaadon Ki Baaraat and Don, and who recently cameoed as Mughal queen Sakina Begum in the film Panipat, whether theatre gives her as much satisfaction as cinema. “In film you have the opportunity of retakes or of giving your best profile. In theatre, it’s right here, right now. There’s a certain discipline in theatre. Of course, that’s also true of cinema, because you have to hold on to an emotion that was probably set up 2 hours ago."

Does she enjoy the instant feedback from theatre audiences? “I will tell you after the first few shows," she laughs. “I am just so excited and happy to be in this play."

Visit for the festival schedule and tickets.

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