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A laugh at life

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Hindi theatre’s longest-running play offers a healthy dose of laughter

With its simple storyline, this is a play that guarantees laughter therapy. A man mistakenly thinks he is dying, and starts putting his affairs in order. This includes setting up a second marriage for his wife. A series of misunderstandings ensues, leaving the audience in splits.

Exploiting reactions to mortality, love and insecurity, is playwright Ranvir Singh’s loose adaptation of Send Me No Flowers, by (also a film starring and Doris Day).

So this is India’s longest-running Hindi play, staged 1,059 times in the last 32 years. The Ank Theatre Group, which has performed the play since 1978, was established in 1976 by reputed actor/director Dinesh Thakur. It has a repertoire of 74 plays and 6,700 shows. These include Mohan Rakesh’s Aadhe Adhoore, Vijay Tendulkar’s Khamosh! Adalat Jari Hai and Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq. With committed theatre workers, regular workshops for raw talent, and recognition from the pillars of Indian theatre, Ank has helped transform the scene.

Preeta Mathur, lead actor of Hai Mera Dil, says the play’s mass appeal has taken it to every major Indian city, most smaller towns, and even Aditya Birla Group factories, where the play was performed, sometimes in the open air, street-theatre style, for audiences ranging from senior management to factory workers. “It appeals to everyone,” she observes, “because the play highlights the comic things in our everyday life that we are too caught up to notice.”

How has Ank innovated to keep the play current? “Oh, we keep modifying things. References to smugglers as the bad guys changed, after 1993, to Tiger Memon, then to Osama, and the latest is Ajmal Kasab. We’ve also included Facebook, Lalu Prasad and popular TV shows so that the audience connects better with the play.”

Hai Mera Dil has been making people smile for 32 years. Go watch it.

Show no. 1,060 is at Prithvi Theatre, September 12, 6 pm and 9 pm. Tickets, Rs 200

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