Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Front Page - Text by Ananya Ghosh Pho­to­graphs shot ex­clu­sively for HT Brunch by Prab­hat Shetty


“Naseer had said the best re­la­tion­ships are ones that can­not be de­fined. As ac­tors, such re­la­tion­ships are cru­cial; we can­not be hus­band and wife while per­form­ing.” — Ratna Pathak Shah

NASEERUDDIN SHAH and Ratna Pathak Shah might not have been a cou­ple if not for theatre. How Naseer met this “strik­ing-look­ing girl who hence­forth I could not keep my eyes off,” while sip­ping su­gar­cane juice with theatre guru Satyadev Dubey, is now part of his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, And Then One Day. “I took to her the mo­ment I saw her, and I re­ally felt that I would like to get to know her. I even con­sid­ered the pos­si­bil­ity of spend­ing my life with her…. We had not yet spo­ken to each other…but some­how I felt cer­tain she was my kind of per­son,” rec­ol­lects Naseer in his mem­oir.

They were des­tined to be a cou­ple, and the stage brought them to­gether. In Dubey’s play, Samb­hog Se

Sanyas Tak, they played hus­band and wife. Ratna, who had ini­tially mis­heard his name as Shiven­dra Sinha and con­fused him with the film­maker from FTII, soon took a lik­ing to him.

“He used to wear these John Len­non dark glasses, which I loved. Also, he was the only one who knew what he was do­ing as an ac­tor as op­posed to the rest of us who were just blun­der­ing along,” re­calls Ratna.


That was just the be­gin­ning, but the jour­ney was any­thing but smooth. Ratna’s mother, vet­eran ac­tress Dina Pathak, was not too fond of Naseer, and the fact that he had been pre­vi­ously mar­ried and had a daugh­ter (Heeba), didn’t make mat­ters any eas­ier. But three decades and two chil­dren later, they are not only a happy cou­ple but their col­lab­o­ra­tion on stage sel­dom misses the mark. They even take turns to di­rect each other. And when they are on stage to­gether, you can see the sparks fly.

“I think trust is key, and con­stant re­vi­sion. Long ago, Naseer had said that the best re­la­tion­ships are the ones that can­not be de­fined. As ac­tors, such in­def­i­nite re­la­tion­ships are cru­cial; we can­not be hus­band and wife when we are per­form­ing,” says Ratna.

Now even their kids have joined them at their theatre com­pany, Mot­ley. “Imaad and Vivaan are theatre ba­bies. Just like Ratna her­self. She grew up watch­ing her mother (Dina Pathak) per­form on stage and her kids grew up watch­ing her and me,” says Naseer.

For Heeba, it was dif­fer­ent. Naseer first saw her

per­form when she was 15. It was a school play and she played Mother Teresa. “It was a short act but I knew then and there that she has the po­ten­tial to be a great ac­tor. But, as I say to her of­ten, be­ing tal­ented is not enough, you have to work hard,” he adds.

Heeba re­mem­bers the day vividly when she was per­form­ing in front of Naseer and Ratna and had hardly three lines. “But when the play ended, both came back­stage and hugged me. They were elated!” says Heeba.


The Shahs never stop en­cour­ag­ing their kids, but they are also strict crit­ics. “Mom is a hard taskmas­ter,” says Vivaan. Imaad agrees: “I’ve ob­served their work­ing style quite a bit by now and I think they can both be taskmas­ters at dif­fer­ent times when the sit­u­a­tion calls for it. But mom will raise the slightly un­com­fort­able ques­tions and cut straight to the crux of the mat­ter with­out beat­ing around the bush at all.”

Al­though act­ing runs in their genes, Imaad has branched out to music and has com­posed a few scores for Mot­ley’s plays, the lat­est be­ing Gadha Aur Gad­dha. “I just told him one line and he got all the scores done. When I heard them, they were just what I had wanted,” ex­claims Naseer.

The same goes for Heeba and Vivaan, both of whom have al­ready di­rected their first plays,

Parindon Ki Me­hfil and Com­edy of Hor­rors, re­spec­tively. “They are noth­ing great, but I am glad they are go­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” says Naseer.

If you’re the sen­ti­men­tal type, you may be­lieve that work­ing to­gether as a fam­ily helps you un­der­stand each other bet­ter. But for Naseer, the best part about work­ing with fam­ily mem­bers is that you can round them up when­ever you want, and start re­hears­ing!

Ratna be­lieves that theatre has been the glue that not only holds them close but also keeps them sane and con­nected to new ideas from all over the world. “Theatre is part of our lives so there is al­ways some prepa­ra­tion, dis­cus­sion or re­hearsal hap­pen­ing ev­ery day. I don’t know what we’d talk about if it weren’t for theatre, films and music,” says Ratna.

As a fam­ily, they talk about their projects and share ideas and, when needed, the par­ents are there to guide the kids. But Naseer and Ratna are against spoon­feed­ing. “We con­trib­ute with what we can when it is needed. But ide­ally, I try to stay away from what they are do­ing as much as pos­si­ble. They have to grow and you can’t do that freely with mom look­ing over your shoul­der! I am deeply grate­ful that my mom stayed out of our work but was a fan­tas­tic sup­porter and au­di­ence for every­thing we did. Noth­ing re­ally grows un­der the shade of a banyan,” says Ratna.

Imaad ex­plains that even though all of them oc­ca­sion­ally turn to their par­ents for ad­vice and opin­ions, the ac­tor’s process is a fairly soli­tary one. “How­ever, when the per­for­mance is for one of our own plays, of course ev­ery­one climbs onto the boat and we all love point­ing stuff out to each other!” he adds.


In Novem­ber, the en­tire fam­ily fi­nally came to­gether on stage for Rid­ing Madly Off In All

Di­rec­tions. But Naseer points out that this is not their first time. “We did Julius Cae­sar to­gether. Heeba was 15, Imaad was three and Vivaan was a baby. But they were there…all part of the crowd,” he guf­faws.

It was dif­fer­ent of course, all five work­ing to­gether as adults. “I thought it would be good ap­pren­tice­ship to see how an en­tire pro­duc­tion gets done,” says Naseer. “Al­though all three of them are ex­posed to the stage and very com­fort­able with the medium, and none of them suf­fer from stage fright, so far, I think, they had a very pe­riph­eral role. One wouldn’t call them for the en­tire re­hearsal, and they would not know how an en­tire play gets done from scratch. I think this play gave them that. I had to push them a bit, but that is my job as the di­rec­tor of the play.”

For Vivaan, it was a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in ev­ery pos­si­ble way. “We never re­ally got the chance to at­tend his work­shops as stu­dents, and this was the first time I was part of the en­tire process of cre­at­ing a play. We knew that dad is an amaz­ing ac­tor and di­rec­tor, but all this while we had seen him with the fi­nal prod­uct. This time, we saw him with the nuts and bolts, cre­at­ing the en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence. And that gave me the ac­tual pic­ture of how tal­ented he re­ally is!”

Vivaan has worked with sev­eral di­rec­tors, both on­stage and in movies, but he be­lieves work­ing with Naseer is a whole new ball game. “Not only is he a very visual di­rec­tor, almost cin­e­matic in his ap­proach, he is also one of those old-school di­rec­tors who come with a very par­tic­u­lar vi­sion of what they want, and it is im­por­tant for the ac­tors to be able to ex­e­cute that,” ex­plains Vivaan. “That doesn’t mean he doesn’t en­cour­age us to bring our own ideas to the ta­ble, but at the end of the day, it is his show.”

While re­hears­ing to­gether, the Shah fam­ily found new equa­tions with one an­other. “We laughed to­gether, worked to­gether, and yes, some­times we also fought with one an­other, but dis­agree­ments are part of any cre­ative process,” says Naseer. “But there were no hic­cups work­ing with them as ac­tors. In fact, all three of them sur­prised me with their un­der­stand­ing of act­ing. I had worked with Heebs be­fore, and knew she is a tal­ented ac­tor. Viv has al­ways been a gifted and un­in­hib­ited ac­tor, Imaad is a bit shy, but I re­alised that he is also deeply in­ter­ested in act­ing. It makes me proud to see that they have found their in­di­vid­ual con­nect with act­ing.”

“He (Naseer) is one of those old-school di­rec­tors who come with a very par­tic­u­lar vi­sion of what they want, and it is im­por­tant for the ac­tors to be able to ex­e­cute that.” — Vivaan Shah


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