1000 shows, and still going strong

V. Gangadhar on Dinesh Thakurís record-breaking play Hai Mera Dil

Top: A scene featuring Dinesh Thakur in Hai Mera Dil and (above) Dinesh Thakur and his team felicitated on the occasion of the 1000th show of Hai Mera Dil
Top: A scene featuring Dinesh Thakur in Hai Mera Dil and (above) Dinesh Thakur and his team felicitated on the occasion of the 1000th show of Hai Mera Dil

Around 11.15 pm on Sunday, March 27, the entire cast of Mumbai theatre personality Dinesh Thakurís ANK production, Hai Mera Dil came on the stage at Prithvi Theatre to receive rounds of standing ovation. After acknowledging the applause, Thakur came forward and prostrated fully on the stage and in a choking voice thanked the packed audience.

Yes, the occasion was something special, a record in the history of Hindi theatre It was the one thousandth show of Hai Mera Dil. This unique success, according to Thakur, would not have been possible without audience support. ANK and Dinesh Thakur had been around in Mumbai for nearly 30 years, and this was a moment to be savoured.

Strangely enough, Hai Mera Dil is not a strong, message play. A simple, domestic comedy, it deals with a hypochondriac businessman who misunderstands his family doctorís telephonic conversation with a heart specialist and comes to the conclusion that he has only a few days to live.

Well, he begins frantic efforts to make life easier for his wife by pairing her off with her old college mate, buying plots in a cemetery and making his will. The wife is unable to understand the husbandís strange behaviour, the confusion provides wonderful comedy and finally everything is sorted out.

Hai Mera Dil is adapted from an English play, Send me no flowers which was also made into a 1960s Hollywood movie starring Rock Hudson and Doris Day. ANKís version which was adapted by writer Ranbir Singh, was first staged in Lucknow and Kanpur in 1976.

"We were desperately short of funds and thought a comedy would bring us money," recollected Thakur. "The play ran to full houses, but we got very little money because we had to distribute passes to most of the local bigwigs." The play was originally titled, Afsos hum na Honge which was soon changed to the more catchy Hai Mera Dil.

Hai Mera Dil began its run in Mumbai in the early 1980s. Unlike ANKís uproarious comedy Baagham Bagh which completed 100 shows in just five months, Dil took some time to settle down. Shashi Kapoorís Prithvi Theatre where Hai Mera Dil had many of its earlier shows had just opened in the suburb of Juhu and did not attract many people from the city.

"Hindi theatre was never popular in Mumbai," explained Dinesh Thakur. "The Hindi-speaking audiences were rather reluctant to spend money on drama tickets."

But things changed quickly. The ANK group sold tickets at traffic junctions, prepared attractive banners and hoardings. Word spread that Dil made one forget his problems and laugh. "We had our first houseful ticketed show in February 1981 and squeezed in nearly 394 people in a theatre meant for 250" recalled Thakur and that was a boost to the group. There was no stopping Hai Mera Dil after the first 50 odd shows.

While city people flocked to see the play, visitors did not lag behind. "Bombay jaao, Hai Mera Dil dekho became a slogan. Popular actor, Dara Singh, while watching the play laughed so much that he fell off his seat. The same experience befell a woman in the audience who was in an advanced state of pregnancy. She developed labour pains right in the middle of the show, was carried out and delivered a baby in her car parked outside. "That was the beginning of the story," laughed Dinesh Thakur.

"Years later, a handsome young man and his girl friend came to watch the play and he introduced himself as the baby born just outside the theatre. Years later, the couple returned, this time carrying their first born."

Why is Hai Mera Dil such a huge success? Replied bank executive Kashiram Shah, "It is a clean, family entertainment. I have seen it several times, and when relatives drop in, I come back with them."

Added retired college teacher, Vasanthi Patil, "The play is very natural, I mean being part of life. The atmosphere is intimate and the acting is so casual. The hero, who is a hypochondriac, could be a member of our family. He is such a real character."

Dinesh Thakur is himself a bit surprised at the success of Dil. " I did not expect it to run so long," he admitted. "But we keep on updating it, making references to contemporary, real life people like Osama bin Laden, Laloo Prasad Yadaví and recent movies like Baghbaan and Main Hoon Na. Preeta Mathur, Dinesh Thakurís wife and stage actor, who had been playing the female lead in Dil since 1993 explained, "This play is like a comfort zone, a therapy for us. My character, Usha, is not difficult to play, but I do it with a lot of energy.

Besides producing and directing Hai Mera Dil. Dinesh Thakur has also set up a unique record having played the male lead in all the shows, more than 1000. Around 50 actors had so far played the half a dozen roles in the play, but no one had ever replaced Thakur.

Many of the actors from the past were felicitated on the stage at the end of the 1000th performance. Around 400 shows of Hai Mera Dil had been sponsored so far.