Niladri Kumar and Makarand Deshpande were at their candid best as they bonded over food, Mumbai and the performing arts at Versova Social. Pics/Shadab khan
At the leafy terrace section of Versova Social, veteran theatre artiste Makarand Deshpande peruses the menu for a good five minutes. Not in the mood for heavy or meaty fare, he settles for an Irani Omelette and Watermelon Vs. Feta salad. “I eat fish, but of late, I have been enjoying vegetarian fare more,” he reveals. When we ask if he is naturally lean, he shares his secret, “I always eat in moderation. In fact, I don’t do anything extreme except theatre.”
As we wait for Niladri Kumar to join us for lunch, Makarand is all praise for the sitar player, whom he has recently collaborated with for his production Patni, where he delivers a monologue with situational music lent by Niladri. “Music is emotion picturised. And Niladri is a master of his instrument. When he plays the sitar, it stirs something within you,” smiles Makarand.
(Niladri arrives, soon after the first order reaches our table)
Makarand: The star is here.
Niladri: What’s this that you are having? I see watermelon and feta (takes a dig, has some more). What do you get to eat here?
Makarand: Everything. It’s madness!
Niladri: Is this the menu? (Picks up the tabloid-shaped menu.) Wow, this is like mid-day!
Makarand: (pointing to the Irani Omelette) Yeh kamaal hai.
Niladri: (takes a bite) I’ll have this too. Just make it spicier.
Snigdha: You’ve spent so much time together; even your food choices have aligned. How did Patni come about?
Niladri: What intrigued me about Makarand bhai was his zeal for theatre. The way he is on stage, I could relate to that in some degree because that’s how I feel about music. After I saw him in a play, I decided to meet him, regardless of the outcome. We then met over a bite like today. The conversation just flowed…how we laughed! The spirit was such that we knew we could work together.
Makarand: How many people can you laugh your heart out with in the first meeting? When you share your passion for art, cinema, music, politics and food, and can talk about it with a sprinkling of laughter, that is the best place to be in for a collaboration.
(The omelette, Chinese Bhel, Almond Tikki Chaat arrive)
Snigdha: What was it like to be born in a house resounding with music?
Niladri: At home, it was all about music, its culture and stories, musicians, the etiquette that comes with music. I remember my father would get annoyed with me because I wouldn’t say ‘Namaste’ to our guests. When I stepped out of home, everybody said ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’, so it was a different atmosphere altogether. But eventually, I realised ‘Namaste’ is probably the best greeting in the world. When you start being exposed to the world, you realise how great our culture and some of the systems around our culture are.
I remember Pandit Ravi Shankarji’s visits to our home fondly. He used to love home-cooked food. He was a true Bengali at heart. Around 2010 – he was 90 then – I had a meal with him. He ate everything from fish to Bengali saags and dal. Imagine him being exposed to what not in the world, and still enjoying his roots.
Makarand: I was a true Bandra boy. By that I mean I was surrounded by Catholics, Sindhis, Sikhs, Jains and Muslims. Ashutosh Gowariker lived a few lanes away. When you are raised in such an atmosphere, it doesn’t matter what your religion is. I also played junior-level cricket for Bombay. I don’t know how I became an actor, but I loved life. At 18, at the peak of my cricket career, I realised, one day I’ll have to retire and I didn’t want that to happen. I acted in films, but it was getting monotonous. With theatre, I found an art close to my life. And when that happened, I didn’t have to look outside.
Snigdha: With so much experimentation, are the arts breaking free?
Makarand: People now have a camera in their hands. Drama unfolds through Twitter and SMSes. Alternate spaces are coming up. Performances can happen right here (in this restaurant). The point is, you should do caricatures only when you know how to make portraits. First, you must know your work in its simplest form, and then enjoy complicating it.
Niladri: Kya baat hai. This is true for every field. You can’t forget the foundation. For the Zitar to be thought up, the sitar must be mastered first.
MD: Prithvi Theatre
NK: When the few people in my life are present in the audience, it becomes my favourite venue.
MD:Bimal Roy and Ritwik Ghatak in Madhumati
NK: Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan with Ustad Allarakha and Ustad Zakir Hussain; I remember all of them played together, years ago at Sion’s Shanmukhananda Hall.
MD: Naseer (Naseeruddin Shah)
NK: My father, my guru (sitar player, Kartick Kumar)
New talent to look forward to:
MD: Sanjay Dadhich
NK: Myself. I consider myself upcoming. But seriously, nobody among the new artistes gives me complete joy; I enjoy their work in portions.