M K RAINA: A salutation and explorationby Aparajita Krishna November 24 2020, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 33 mins, 28 secs
Again and this one is vast - Aparajita Krishna walks you through the life of social activist and actor MK Raina. So far, so, so good.
Maharaj Krishen Raina is more intimately known to the world of theatre, arts, social-cultural activism as M K Raina or just MK. Having got to know him over the years was a privilege. This article is both a salutation to him and an exploration of his role as an actor-director-citizen-activist.
‘Before I forget’ is his memoir in the making. He says, “It is about my life, my theatre, my ventures, my activism and how it impacted me in shaping me into what I am today.”
When I asked the 72-years-young for some photos from his childhood and young years, he communicated, “Our home was looted in Kashmir and everything was taken when we had to leave from there. So finding pictures when I was young isn’t possible. I have found one, very vintage photo, where I am perhaps of age 10. It is with my grandmother, mother, father, uncle, a cousin and a little born great grandchild of my grandmother. It is a very interesting picture.”
A child of newly independent India, M K Raina was born in Srinagar into a Kashmiri Pandit family. He has been living in Delhi for decades. We get talking from the beginning of his early days and travel via his world, a larger universe that we inhabit and which exhilarates as well as torments us.
This article is very dear to me and I prize it for MK Raina represents all that is right with the world and one that is fast getting out of our embrace.
Among the many felicitations, awards, recognitions he has been feted with are the Sahitya Kala Parishad Award in 1981, Best Director of the year by the West Bengal Govt in 1982, Best Director Award of Punjabi Akademi- Delhi-1987, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1995, Swarna Padak from the Govt of Jammu and Kashmir in 1996 for contribution to theatre, B V Karanth Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2007, Hindi Akademi Shikhar Samman in 2018.
MK, do inform about your familial antecedents and of Kashmir you were born and brought up in.
We were a clan comprising my father and his three brothers, my uncles, with four different houses in the same campus living together. One can call it Raina campus. We are about sixteen cousins altogether including the first and second cousins.
The mohalla I lived in is called Sheetal Nath in Srinagar. It was the epicentre of all social-political-cultural activity for Kashmiri Pandits living there. It is historically a very important place. There is a big ground and a temple by the name of Sheetal Nath. It has a big campus. On the one side is the building where the famous Urdu newspaper of the Kashmiri Pandits called Martand used to be printed. There was the printing press and next to it was the school.
We had our family team of cricket and hockey. In our Sheetal Nath mohalla we had a ground where we children and our parents used to play. Our whole community of Muslims, Hindus would be playing in teams together. My father was a dentist and also a very important political activist of the National Conference. It was since the times of the Maharaja when my father was a young man. His clinic was called Comrades. He then changed it to Raina Clinic or something.
What is very important is that at some point in his life he left the party and kept quiet. I asked him once as to why did he leave the political party? He said, ‘Actually now different people have taken it over and most of them are lumpen. It is not the same party which fought during the Quit Kashmir Movement and many other movements against the feudal landlord-ship, against the rule of the Maharaja.’ I must have been in my first year of college when he left it.
Any imprinted memories that you would most want to share?
There are many imprints of my childhood in Kashmir. In my growing up years Kashmir was a free place. We could go wherever we wanted. Today’s kids cannot dream of going to the mountains for two days, trekking and enjoying themselves. It’s now not possible. One imprint I must tell you about is of my father hiring a donga. It is a mini version of a houseboat. We would go to the Kheer Bhawani Devi’s Temple at 4a.m. in the morning. With the flow of the water the houseboat would go down the river and enter into the area where it leaves Jhelum. It used to be a seven day picnic-cum-pilgrimage to Kheer Bhavani Devi’s temple. Those were lovely memories in my life. Even now I go from the first bridge to the seventh bridge by boat. On both sides of the river is the city of Srinagar. When you see Srinagar city it is seeing the history of Kashmir. There are temples, mosques, homes and beautiful architecture of wood houses. It is amazing!
The boat would be anchored at river Jhelum and my family, relatives would go into it. We would be cooking in the house boat. Then dive into the river. The boat would cruise through many lakes and finally reach home. Dal lake was about 2 kms away from our house. Every day we cousins and friends would bicycle down and all day keep swimming in the lake like ducks. In fact we almost got drowned a couple of times, but got saved by people. We were lake-swimmers swimming long distance. It was free swimming, not swimming in a swimming pool. Another imprint is of going with friends from one hill to the other hill, to the mountain, eat wild berries, apricots and other wild fruits while crossing the forest. Sometimes we would spot a black bear, turkeys, birds and snakes. Those were free days. We would go without even asking our parents. It was not even necessary to take permission. Nowadays it’s not possible. The beauty of Kashmir that we imbibed was soaked into us.
Do name the school and college you did your education from and the related memories.
The primary school I went to was called Lal Ded School. Lal Ded was a 14th century mystic, a Shiavite poetess (of Kashmir Shaivism school of philosophy). One of the greatest poets. Kashmiri intellectuals consider Lal Ded as the Mother of our language. After her comes Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Noorani (Sufi saint, mystic, poet). Then I went to a school in the premises of Sheetal Nath temple ground. It was called The Hindu High School run by the Hindu Education Society. I finished my school there and that is where I got baptised into Theatre. My principal was Dina Nath Nadim, one of the great poets of Kashmir. He was the leader of the progressive literary movement. He used to write operas which when staged by our elders became famous. Till today those songs are sung. He wrote for us children a play called Neki Badi. It was about forest, animal kingdom and children. Dina Nath Nadim had gone to China with the delegation and had met Mao Tse Tung. He used to wear Mao Tse Tung’s famous coat that he was gifted by him.
After my role in Neki Badi I started becoming a child actor. The other amateur theatre groups would cast me if they needed a child actor. I must have been a bathroom singer, so my father put me in a nice music school called Prem Sangeet Niketan. It was headed by Jaganath Shivpuri, a very nice musician. The school was affiliated to The Gandharva Mahavidyalaya Mandal. Every year we would have examinations. I almost went up to Sangeet Visharath level in vocal Hindustani classical music. I used to do bada khayal, sing dhrupad. Theoretically I became very, very good, but unfortunately in practical experience my teachers were not so good. I started losing my interest in it, but the theory stayed in me. That helped me as a theatre person. I know when I choose music for theatre what kind of raag, rhythm I should use. It all comes back from my school days.
Kashmir’s very good progressive movement roped in a lot of talented youngsters like us and called us Young Writers Association. They made us write short stories. Being with the top of the line poets and writers of Kashmir like Rehman Rahi, Nadim Saab, Ameen Kamil and listening to their talks would uplift us. They put in us the grains of progressivism, harmony and all kinds of good things that needed to be put in us as part of our growing-up and to later help in life.
You joined the National School of Drama (NSD) at Delhi on state scholarship. What was your first impression of the NSD and Delhi?
In college and in my amateur theatre they had found me to be some kind of a good actor. I used to do young roles and also mimicry. In serious theatre groups in Srinagar, I had also got known. So, the state was advised by the elders that this boy should go to the NSD with scholarship. I joined the NSD in 1967 with the scholarship my state gave me. The director there at that time was Mr Ebarahim Alkazi, who recently passed away. He was a very respected name. NSD at that time used to be very, very tough. It was not an ordinary thing to be in the school at that time.
I never knew a soul in Delhi. I remember coming to Delhi with my trunk of clothes comprising 4-5 changes and a bedroll. For some time I stayed at a relative’s house before I shifted to a railway quarter with a friend. After that I shared another room in Lodhi colony and then moved to a mess called Nair Mess before I finally went to Nizamuddin to stay.
My first impression of Delhi was that it was a metropolis, which I did not understand. Walking on Lodhi Road was dreadful because next to it were forests. Now you have the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium there. Back then there used to be monkeys on the road. You could not easily cross the road. However, there was an atmosphere of hope; an atmosphere of doing something. When I came to the NSD, the play Andha Yug with Om Shivpuri had been staged at the Talkatora Gardens. It was a big thing. Alkazi was breaking grounds in theatre. That area of Mandi House had art galleries and I got the chance to see art exhibitions, plays. There was good cinema shown in Sapru House. Here I saw Ritwick Ghatak for the first time. Everything was a first for me because Kashmir had nothing like this. Here you could see M F Hussain’s paintings, Tyeb Mehta’s exhibitions. The great Shankar Shaad Mushaira and the ITC Music Sammelan used to be held. We had no money, but somehow we could manage to get into the concert and listen to Bhimsen Joshi, Aamir Khan Saheb, Nikhil Banerjee, Ravi Shankar. At that time Shujaat Khan was a little child playing with his father Vilayat Khan Saheb. I recall Shanta Prasad giving him 101 rupees saying ‘I am a poor man, but this boy today played with me and I want to give him aashirwaad.’ One could see a bigger, larger picture of culture.
Who were the noted seniors at the NSD and your classmates?
The drama school at that time was very tough. Mr Alkazi was demanding high professionalism. Students would come from smaller places, from muffasil towns. We were 18 of us and believe me out of 18 only 8 passed out. 10 left NSD. It was so difficult to survive in the school, to make a name, to get a role, being in the good books of the teachers, doing all your projects! Professionally, it was very important for us to be in the good books of Mr Alkazi. My seniors were Surekha Sikri, Uttara Baokar. Om Shivpuri, Sudha Shivpuri, Ram Gopal Bajaj and there were others who had already left and had earned very big names in Indian theatre. Manohar Singh was my junior. It is very funny because age wise he was senior to us and he had his children. He had some job with the government of Himachal Pradesh. We became very good friends and did a lot of work together. We were parallel in many roles.
Do recall the significant plays in which you featured in the three years at the NSD and in the repertory.
In Othello I played Iago and Manohar Singh played Othello. Then there was Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, directed by Fritz Bennewitz who came from East Germany. I acted as Mr Peachum and Manohar Singh acted as Captain Macheath.
Jasma Odan was an original play and a legendary experiment in traditional Bhavai theatre from Gujarat. It became an avant-garde theatre production, which ran for 14 years. I and Manohar were in the original cast. The Caucasian Chalk Circle was another production of Brecht done by another director from Germany, Carl Weber. Premchand’s Godaan was staged as the play Hori. Then there was Brecht’s Mother. I passed out in 1970 with the best actor award.
Decades later M K Raina would in his obituary-tribute to Mr Alkazi, who would depart from life on the 4th August 2020, eloquently give words to a summary of his NSD years: “Alkazi left the National School of Drama in 1977, nearly 43 years back. He should have been forgotten long back. But in his leaving this world, he and his work was reborn. His contribution to Indian contemporary theatre is again written about and recognized. What he inculcated in us beyond the world of theatre was to develop a holistic view of the world. A world that is a complex and multilayered experience and yet all aspects of it was interconnected. This keeps this planet going. He made us experience joy in the dignity of labor when he wanted to build the iconic Meghdoot Theatre at Ravindra Bhawan. All the students of NSD along with him worked as manual laborers with spades, shovels and baskets carrying bricks, mud, mixed cement etc. At the Meghdoot Theatre innumerable performances are being performed by generations of theatre people till date. The lesson in compassion, which he gave me after I had left the drama school, is still ingrained in me. He was a chairman of a selection board to select young scholars in traditional theatre. I was one of the selectors. It was in the 1970s. I had left the drama school long back. There was a young girl from Nagaland who could not talk, or, explain her work or answer any question that was asked by the selectors. So, most of us in the panel decided to drop her and move on but Alkazi Saheb said ‘No! We will break for lunch’. He gave me the responsibility to take care of the girl and her father and said, ‘Give them lunch and get one of the NSD students from Nagaland and ask him to find out what would she require to give us a full demonstration?’After the lunch break, we all came back, and she performed her piece. It was outstanding. All were surprised and happy. Alkazi Saheb gave me a smiling look and said, ‘You know Raina when people from far off places come to Delhi, the seat of power and governance, those villagers cross many villages and all the villagers come to know that this Delhi has called them. And when they go back they carry the impression of Delhi and about people like us back to the villages. They become our ambassadors and they should carry back the correct image of people in power, when they talk to those people in the village.’ Whenever I sit in judging others this lesson always guides me till date.”
After passing out of the NSD you got involved with freelance theatre and charted your very distinct space and place in theatre.
It has been a long journey from 1971 till date - directing, producing, acting, designing, writing in theatre. One day I got frightened. I have directed approximately 200 theatre productions in many languages like Ladhaki, Kashmiri, Dogri, Punjabi, Haryanvi, Hindi, English, Madhya Pradesh dialect. Then productions in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, W Bengal, Manipur, Tripura. I did plays in Bangladesh, Lahore in Pakistan, Nepal. This journey has been a journey of my growing, shaping, learning.
I used to also go to small places and meet traditional theatre performers, tribal performers, spend time with them, learn from them. What I learnt from the NSD I also unlearned it. I questioned what would I do with western theatre here? It means nothing. I had to have my own idioms, forms. I worked with traditional forms in Kashmir, in Andhra and put the traditional in my modern theatre, like in my production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle in Punjabi and another production in Ladhaki.
Then I did Banbhatta Ki Atmakatha. I did Godan much later. I would take up a lot of literary works and also improvise poems and short stories into plays. It has been a long journey with so many languages. I would take an assistant knowing the local language and the local director would collaborate with me. I realised that in most of the languages, Sanskrit words keep popping up. I had learnt Sanskrit till class 9.
I never got any support from the state or central government. Habib Tanvir had his own repertory. Mr Alkazi had his own drama school where he made history. Some of us, like me, Bansi Kaul, Prasanna were people who had no godfathers and godmothers. We were people with no means. We had to struggle and scratch our identity and create a place for ourselves in Indian theatre. Our support systems and mentors were friends who became like elder brothers. It was hard work.
I still have to struggle the same way. It has been a very learning and knowledgeable journey. That is how I understood my country. I understood the diversity and unity in diversity. It is not a slogan. It is a real thing. You need to travel and see it for yourself. The diversity in everything, be it the colours, forms or musical instruments - it is so strong. There is a string that ties it all together and that makes India. This freelancing in theatre has been for me a discovery of India through my work.
Your cultural activism has also seen you work all over India with many traditional forms. Theatre and activism merge in your work and living. In our talk way back in 2006 you had spoken about your association with Sahmat. You are a founder member. I have known you to be a very proactive Left leaning, politically conscious citizen. The Babri Masjid demolition (1992) and the subsequent rise of the Indian Right we had discussed. You had said, “Very few (Indian) actors understand the dialectics of politics. They should understand how dangerous it was that time. Lot of people would love to go to the Rajya Sabha. We were in the forefront to ensure the communal parties would lose. I was threatened. They won. Humne socha bhago ab toh ye marenge. What was loaded with Babri Masjid was communal riots, million other things. So taking a position on that was a decisive position.”
I think I was an activist through theatre only. Going from place to place and performing. In the field of activism I lost my friend Safdar Hashmi who was killed while doing street theatre. It shook me completely. I was very close to him. For nineteen years we were very close to each other’s families. There was an uproar in the country when he left us. From that protest and struggle, an organisation was born. It was called the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, popularly known as Sahmat. We believe in the ideals of secularism, intellectual and artistic freedom. We are now a thirty year old organisation with only the support and goodwill of the artistes including film makers, painters, photographers and others. It is a national forum for creative people and has a large support of the creative community of India through their donations. We have taken radical stands on culture, education and freedom of expression. We have landed in trouble many times. We were sued by the government at a point of time for sedition. It was a charge they could not prove in court. Their lawyer did not even come to the court. This is a very important aspect of my life. I spent thirty years with friends to build it up. I call Sahmat a university of learning cultural resistance. After IPTA this is one important step that has happened in the culture of resistance. I do not endorse the direction in which the country is going. There is not enough intellectual or artistic response against the decisions that are being taken by the state. That is worrying me and my friends. It is about the very concept of our republic. Over twenty years we have seen things shifting and Sahmat has more responsibility to sharpen our tools of cultural resistance.
When my mother died in Kashmir on 25th January 1990, there was no government in Kashmir. There were terrorists all over. I did the cremation of my mother with five people. It was shoot-at-sight orders at the time. When I came back from the cremation I thought to myself, ‘Is it the end of my Kashmiriyat? Am I no more a Kashmiri now?’ One day I went back to Kashmir. My family stood by me. It was very tough in 1999. I gradually started contacting people there in amateur theatre, young people, folk theatre practitioners of Kashmir. With God’s grace in these 18 years I have been doing many things there. I also use theatre for the psychological revival of minds there. I psychologically helped people like the orphaned children, half-widows, young students who had lost their hope, their self-esteem. There was no college happening there.
They have now created their own little groups in smaller towns doing quite good theatre. Some have come up to the national level. They go with their theatre all over India. There is an element of satisfaction in me that they are on their own. The revival of Kashmir theatre from bhaand to avant garde came when I did King Lear in bhaand (clown, buffoon) style as Badshah Lear. It was Kashmiri Shakespearean version of the tragedy. It got invited all over the country. Mind you these are with those actors who cannot read or write but they are actors when you see them. They are craftsmen, musicians, singers, actors. They have all the specialisations in them. What we call in Sanskrit drama Angik Vachik Aahare Saatavick.
An internet information on you informs that you have acted in over 100 plays and produced over 150 plays in 12 languages. Among your notable directed plays are: Kabira Khada Bazar Mein, Karmawali, Pari Kukh, Kabhi Na Chooden Khet, The Mother, Bhanbhatt Ki Atma Katha, Godan, Tum Saadat Hasan Manto Ho, Badshah Pather, Baaki Itihaas, Hiroshima, Hatya Ek Aakar Ki, The Great Trial, Lower Depths, Andha Yug (performed at Berlin and USSR Festival of India). Jasma Odhan in 1986 was produced at Hawaii University.
The plays in my career that are very important are Buhe Baariyan, Chanda Mama Door Ke (2 solo act plays acted by Neeta Mahendra), which have been awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards and Kafan Chor (my latest production staged about one and a half years back). It is a Kashmir story by Amil Qamil of Kashmir. It is mixed with Kafan of Premchand and a third dimension created via a montage of shroud-stealing in the world today. Everywhere shrouds are being stolen, whether in war or in peace.
I had the privilege of working with actors like Zohra Sehgal, Uttara Baokar, Surekha Sikri, Manohar Singh, Seema Biswas, Pankaj Kapur, Ravi Baswani, Neeta Mahendra, K K Raina, Usha Ganguly and many others. Even Naseer I have directed at the NSD. It was my first production. I had the privilege of also working with my seniors. It was an honour working with them all. Most of the productions became milestone productions of my career and in theatre also.
Ek Ruka Hua Faisla as a play left a very distinct mark. It was later made into a film in 1986. You played the juror. Do recall how the play got shaped.
It was cooked in Mandi House (Delhi) itself. Pankaj Kapur, KK Raina, Ranjit Kapoor, all of us would have tea there every day. Ranjit tossed the idea that he would direct this play and we twelve experienced actors should come together. S M Zaheer was there. Vinod Nagpal was there. Annu Kapoor was also there. Ranjit Kapoor is a darling director but very lazy also. He may come to the rehearsal and may not. We decided we would come for the rehearsals at 7 a.m. in the morning and work till 10 a.m. And if anyone is late he has to give breakfast to each one of us. So for three hours we would work. When Ranjit would not come we would start working on our own: ‘Ok you go there, you there (we would block the play).’
I remember the first show. We had all done years of work but were so nervous. My legs started shaking before the second bell went. Everybody backstage was so tense. Nobody was talking to anybody. The play started. I had the first dialogue of the play, ‘Jintaan khayenge aap?’ Before that there was a long pause, lull, built in the play. The first line came… and subsequently it was like bullets coming out of a super machine gun and we ran the three hour play like that. From the very first day itself, it became a super hit. Everybody wanted to see it.
12 Angry Men as a film was a serious murder mystery. Here we were making people laugh. It was a reinterpretation of the original by Ranjit. Later in the play when Zaheer Saheb has to say ‘Not Guilty’ before all the jurists have to say not guilty, he (Zaheer) used to break a pencil. I used to ask him, ‘Why are you doing this? This is a Parsi theatre gesture’. But he would do it nonetheless. Annu would sit next to me. He was playing the role of an old man. He would tell me ‘Aa gaya time, aa gaya time. Todega ab.’ One day I said that I will teach him a lesson. You will not believe what I did. I stole all the pencils from the jurists’ pads and kept them in my pocket. No pencil was on the table when Zaheer Saheb had to say ‘Not Guilty’. Now he did not know what to do. So, he took a paper and tore it and said ‘Not Guilty’, and he stared at us. Later I took out the 12 pencils and showed him. He would have killed me that day.
Many stories like this were there. At Bombay it was a packed Prithvi theatre show with film stars, film actors in the audience. Once there was a lovely dinner party at Yash Chopra’s house. He and his wife Pamji are beautiful hosts. I loved their cut-glasses. It was a long drawn dinner. She offered Kashmiri Kahwa. He (Yash Chopra) wanted to do the play as a film. Later we realised Basu Chatterjee was making it. Now this was low, low, low budget. We were housed in Juhu, on the top floor, in a dormitory kind of a place. We were like refugees sleeping there. In about fifteen to sixteen days the film was completed and we left.
People of my generation know that you were one of the earliest film actors of New Wave Hindi Cinema of the 1970s . Your film assignments followed soon after your NSD graduation. 27 DOWN (1974) with Rakhee is a film I recall. Your character’s name was Sanjay. It was a significant parallel cinema film, but at that time the exhibition and audience profile was very limited. Right?
True. Tragedy was, I was one of the biggest supporters of art movies. I worked with Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani, Mrinal Sen, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Govind Nihalani.
All these filmmakers were then trying to break in. Surprisingly Avtar Kaul’s 27 Down which I did with Rakhee did release in Bangalore and ran for 3 months. In Madras the shows were running for 6 months. In Bombay it was released at the Opera House, one show every day. Bikram Singh of Filmfare wrote ‘Mini miracle of FFC’. It is an iconic film studied at many film schools.
And then came your other films.
In Govind Nihalani’s Aaghat (1985) I acted as a trade unionist. In New Delhi Times (1986) I acted as a photo-journalist. In Ankur Maina Kabootar I was almost like Salim Ali, the birdman.
M K Raina’s role-call of film work also includes Satah Se Uthta Aadmi (1980), Tarang (1984), Gidh (1984), Genesis (1986), Tamas (serial/film 1988), Kasba (1991). Among the mainstream Hindi films he has acted in the later years have been: Lakshya (2004), Taare Zameen Par (2007), Noor (2007), Rab Ne Banadi Jodi, Aisha (2010), Titli (2014).
As a veteran theatre-man he has been a visiting director at the NSD, Hyderabad Central University, IIT (Hyderabad), IIT (Chattisgarh), a resident scholar at Jamia Milia Islamia, Fellow at the Standard University (USA), fellow at the University of Hawai. He has also been making documentaries on heritage and social issues. He informs in this regard, “I was invited by Doordarshan to direct The Caucasian Chalk Circle, which I had done in Punjabi to do it in Hindi on Brecht’s centenary celebration. I have also done Bhisham Sahani’s stories and plays on television.”
Commemorating the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th Birth Anniversary in 2019 M K Raina designed and directed these plays: 1) Stay Yet A While, presented by Sahmat and Prayog was based on letters and debates between Gandhi and Tagore. 2) The Great Trial focused on Gandhi the lawyer. It was presented by Delhi High Court Bar Association in association with the National Gandhi Museum. 3) Hatya Ek Aakar Ki was a stage portrayal of a stunning mock-trial of Mahatma Gandhi before his assassination. 4) Baabla Aur Bapu@Sabarmati Ashram, was based on the book by Narayan Desai, son of Mahadev Desai, secretary to Mahatma Gandhi and a great Gandhian himself. It was a NSD production.
Now coming to your more recent works.
Recently I have acted in Teen Aur Aadha (3½) directed by a Bombay based director from Ukraine, Dar Gai. It has gone to 23 international film festivals. It is an English film and comprises three and a half shots. Each shot is a complete story of 35 minutes and I am in one of the stories as a lead. A very interesting film. I acted in a major role in The Forgotten Army-Azaadi Ke Liye, directed by Kabir Khan and narrated by Shah Rukh Khan. We shot it in Thailand, Singapore, Delhi and Mumbai. It is a major series which premiered on Amazon Prime. There was a lot of adventure in crossing rivers, fighting etc. They had kept a duplicate for me thinking I am old now and cannot do it. But I did everything myself. I ran up on a running train, jumped, ran through the forest, through water streams. It was a cool unit. We used to get up at 4 in the morning, travel for 3 hours to go to a jungle location and return back at night. It was a tough shoot, but did not look like one. I really enjoyed working with that unit. I have acted in Prassthanam. I have been doing commercial advertisements also. As freelancers we have no money, so I don’t mind doing them.
I recently acted in three short films. Exchange Offer released on Hotmail and it was a big hit with two million viewers. The Wall was screened at various international film festivals. The Disturbed Mind is still at the making stage.
Visiting Mr. Green is a play written/directed by American author Jeff Baron, starring M K Raina in a virtuoso performance as Mr. Green. Co-actor Aakash Prabhakar as Ross Gardiner in this two-actor cast very ably supports him. It is a story of discrimination, loneliness, love, hate seen through very moving situations between an old lonely man and a young executive amidst a very politically-socio-cultural world and the writing and performances are punctuated with irony that often lends itself to humor. He informs, “Recently we travelled with the play Visiting Mr Green but because of COVID, we could not continue beyond the shows we undertook. We will hopefully soon be reviving it when the theatres open”
Do mention your noted upcoming works.
I am working with youngsters. There is a project based on the geographical histories of Saadat Hasan Manto’s texts. Short story called Siyah Hashiye is a collaboration with a musician doing soundscape, a film-maker providing images and me providing voice to the words. It is not a theatrical production, but a digital installation. Very interesting. It will hopefully soon come up. This project aims at going beyond geographical history and making it more universal in understanding the horror and pain.
Do tell us about your wife and children.
My wife Dr Anjali Raina is the anchor of the family. She is a doctor, a paediatrician. My son’s name is Anant Raina and my daughter is Aditi Raina. My daughter-in-law is Akhila Jairaman and my son-in-law is Filippo Giachi. My wife has kept me the way I am. She has never questioned me, never put pressure on me, not even when I used to go to Kashmir, putting my neck out in a chopper at the height of terrorism. Her only condition was that I inform her in the morning and in the evening. Luckily the mobiles came. I am very proud of my wife’s medical practice. It is almost like spending time educating mothers in how to look after their children.
I always ask her why she takes so much time with patients? She says ‘They should not call me back for little, little things. They should learn. Then I am at peace with myself.’ She is also a musician and has been learning Hindustani Classical music. Her upbringing has been from theatre, music, dance. We met in a workshop in Kanpur, fell in love and got married with parents’ blessings. We now have two lovely grown up children. My daughter is the younger of the two and is now married and settled in Singapore. She has done her doctorate and has been to the London School of Economics, Singapore University. She is a public policy expert working in the World Bank. My son did his MBA. He is the rebel of the family who does not believe in any laid out map for him. He took up photography and became a good photographer. Then he picked up the guitar. He self-teaches himself. He has become a documentary film maker on his own. He did a film on Zohra Sehgal on her 100th birthday. He has done a lot of national geographic films. He also did a one hour film on my work in Kashmir with the bhaands. He lives in Delhi. His wife is in corporate work. She comes from South India and is a Tamil Brahmin from Pune. My family is criss-cross. I have a son-in-law who is an Italian. My wife is half-Maharashtrian and half Bengali. I am a Kashmiri Pandit. As my son says we are quarter-quarter-quarter.
How is the Coronavirus time sitting with you? What are the kind of activities that involve you now?
In the first few months of corona I did not know what to do. Should I be at home and get the supplies? People were begging for help. I had some money and so I donated it to some organisations. But then what else to do? Everybody used to tell me to write my memoir. I decided I will write and call it Before I Forget. The book is already written. I wrote with my hand. Now we are trying to type it out. A publisher has already shown interest. I hope it comes to the market soon. Apart from that I did a lot of webinars, wrote a few articles for Social Scientist and other things. Now I am doing workshops with actors. I have not earned a coin for 8 months. I realised that during the lockdown a lot of freelancers are starving. One of my actors suffering from cancer, died. We had to raise money. We artists are at risk. If something happens to us, say an injury, we may end up begging. There is no support system for theatre artistes in this country and nobody has talked about it. There are thousands in every region. It has woken me up. Now at this stage of my life I have to earn. I am working on my feet for 8-10 hours every day, either writing, directing, teaching.
As a political-citizen how do you see India and the world in 2020?
As a political person I see tremendous stress in the country today. I am not trying to criticise this government but the fact remains that since this government has come, they have wanted organic change. The world order does not accept that kind of change. We cannot be exclusionist. That is my worry about my own republic today. My state has dissolved, disintegrated. Ladakh has been taken out of it. Kashmir is a union territory. It bothers me. I look at the economy and I look at employment, at multiculturalism, fundamentalism. All these are like sharp teeth opening up. Many of us ponder and worry about it. I am writing a street play. It is called Snakes and Ladders. I hope I do it soon. Everybody wants to get on to the ladder and then the snake comes and eats you up. It can happen to an individual, it can happen to a nation, it can happen between communities. I see the stress and strain in democracy, the pain in the citizens. I see youngsters directionless and it can turn into a nightmare. I pray and hope it does not happen and sense prevails. We still have a constitution.
Does the Kashmir issue keep beckoning you?
Yes, the Kashmir issue beckons me. My Kashmir is not my Kashmir anymore. There are temples and there is nobody in the temples. There are no worshippers in the temple. There are people in jails. There is uncertainty. I don’t blame my government only. I blame separatists. They have no idea how the people have suffered there. I have seen with my own eyes those innocent children, the half widows. There is no hope for them. How much can an orphanage do? Kashmir is a very political, cultural and psychological issue. It has become an international issue, which it should not have become. All these thirty years from 1990s it has been a terrible thing. It has not been good for the Muslims or the Pandits or the Sikhs. Not for anybody. Not for the Indian Army. I have seen the tricolour boxes with the bodies of our young soldiers. In my book Before I Forget, all this is there in detail.