“I pissed because I am pissed off,” replies a tubby, nattily-dressed Satish Kaushik when the chowkidar pulls him up for relieving himself in a park.
Mr and Mrs Murarilal, a play directed by Saif Hyder Hasan, is about three pissed-off characters who put up a front of cheerfulness when chance brings them together on a cold, wintry night, in a deserted park.
Kaushik played a retired army cook, who sings and dances to keep loneliness at bay. Amit Phatak is a chowkidar battered by life. And Meghna Malik is a lonely grandmother despite having children and grand-children. The trio pretends to be what they are not, but their true, unhappy stories come to the fore, through a night of sharing experiences. And a friendship is born. “Hum ek doosre ko na jaante hue bhi humsafar ban gaye,” says one of them.
Warm and touching, when the play comes to an end, you can see Kaushik’s eyes brimming with tears…
We meet him on a bleak, rainy day, in his sprawling office, to ask about Mr and Mrs Murarilal andhis journey till here.
In the play, your character copes with his essential loneliness by putting up a cheerful act, singing and nimbly dancing to old Hindi film songs… in real life, how much has ‘acting’ helped you to cope with life’s low points?
Satish Kaushik: Acting has helped me go through many a tragedy in life. I don’t like to show my sorrow. I suppress it.
In fact friends like Neena Gupta avoided meeting me when I lost my son because they said they did not want to see me sad. I sincerely believe that to overcome tragedies in life you should do things that please you, like maybe sing songs. I act sorrows out of my mind. Acting is one of the best therapies.
What was I before I became an actor? An ordinary youngster from a middle-class family in Karol Bagh, Delhi. It was acting that broadened my outlook and imagination, helped me relate to people and changed my personality totally.
You danced quite nimbly to Sandip Soparrkar’s choreography and broke into old film songs spontaneously… was it as easy as you made it seem?
Satish: As a thin, scrawny youngster, I used to love dancing at discotheques but I was not a dancer as such. So I was very apprehensive about doing this role which had to ooze a lot of charm as well. I had to sing, dance and be very romantic! I had never done anything like this so I suggested to Saif that he let me do the chowkidar’s role instead. I couldn’t imagine myself singing in my besura voice and being nimble-footed at the same time. Saif told me, “Aap dil se gaao and everything will fall in place.” So I did that. And after some time I began enjoying playing this lovable, happy, romantic character.
A character who is essentially so lonely that he carries a box of sandwiches with him to spend the night in a park by himself…
Satish: (Laughs) You know, when I was a child the only outings my family had were in the park near our house at Karol Bagh. We would carry food from home and picnic there on weekends. We could not afford anything else.
You are right. While munching a sandwich adds to the cuteness of the character it also shows how alone he is. In our next show I am planning to put my teeth into the sandwich in the second act as well when I say, “Humari tanhai humari rooh ko noch rahi hai.”
In the play, the chowkidar asks you from where you picked up angrezi bolne ki bimaari. Were you always fluent in English?
Satish: I was zero in English till I joined the National School of Drama. There I got exposed to literature written in English. I got so hooked on it that I spent all my free hours in the library. Maine kitaaben chaat daleen, Angrezi padh padh ke. I would jot down words that I didn’t understand and look up their meanings, memorize them… I have always been a learner.
I remember, in Bombay, Shabana Azmi once asked me to attend a Rotary Club function and I was very nervous but she insisted I do. That is the first time I spoke in English at a gathering.
In Brick Lane I played the role of a Bangladeshi who has lived in England for thirty years. I had to speak like a Britisher. Dialogues ko ratta mar liya, and I rehearsed them walking in Regent Park in London.
In Mr and Mrs Murarilal I have a long dialogue in English, on the futility of war which I adapted from Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator. This was my improvisation… so I have come a long way from my Karol Bagh days… when an English newspaper came to our house only on Sundays, for me; and my father nicknamed me Shastriji.
From middle-class Karol Bagh to the applause of viewers at Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai, to the glamorous world of the silver screen, and back again to a packed auditorium as you play Murarilal… how would you describe your journey?
Satish: I came to Bombay with Rs 800 which my brother-in-law gave me. I landed here on 9 August 1979, in the middle of the monsoon. I remember I was so scared when I saw the sea at night! By a stroke of luck I was asked to do a role in a play, put up at Prithvi on 16 August, because the original actor had to rush off to Lucknow. The play was Bichhoo and had actors like Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri. I rehearsed my lines walking on the beach as I did not have a place of my own. Then, I worked as a cashier for a year in a textile mill, on a salary of Rs. 400 a month. But all my evenings were spent at Prithvi.
The journey has been very pleasant. I have got so much from life! I never imagined that, one day, I would also become a writer, a director and a producer. This city has given me a lot including good friends like Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, Boney and Anil Kapoor. Shekhar Kapoor helped me a lot. I am truly blessed.
Now I want to enjoy acting and doing roles as diverse as the taayaji in Udta Punjab and Murarilal. I am also doing a program on Radio Nasha, as an RJ, called Filmy Calendar Show.
Life may have its low points but I love it!
(Alpana Chowdhury is a Mumbai-based, independent journalist and a writer of two biographies – Madhubala: Masti and Magic and Dev Anand: Dashing, Debonair)
(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 21 July 2016. It is now being republished to mark the demise of Satish Kaushik.)