Takalkar’s Mein Huun Yusuf Aur Ye Hai Mera Bhai bagged five METAs in 2016 and earned him the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar this year. With a Hindi adaptation of José Saramago’s The Elephant’s Journey that he staged for Aadyam this year, we wonder how many awards he’ll bag next.
In a Facebook post, Mohit Takalkar recounted how he had pledged to give up smoking if his play, Mein Huun Yusuf Aur Ye Hai Mera Bhai, won any awards. He lived to regret that bargain, as Yusuf swept the METAs last year. Pune-based Takalkar was a well-known name in Marathi theatre, until 2015, when he became a well-known name in Hindi theatre with Yusuf, a tearjerker about two brothers in Palestine on the verge of becoming refugees. Takalkar says, “I first read the text [by Palestinian writer Amir Nizar Zuabi] when I was in London in 2010. It was very hard-hitting [and] relevant. The initial reaction was, ‘Let’s do it in Marathi and place it in Kashmir.’ We tried it, and it didn’t make any sense. After many years, I had these actors, Ajeet [Singh Palawat], Ipshita [Chakraborty Singh], Sandeep Shikhar, and I realised I have Hindi actors, so let’s set Yusuf [in Hindi/Urdu] in Kashmir. But, though it is a conflict land, the politics, the pain, the issues are entirely different. So, I decided to set it in Palestine.” When asked if he expected the reaction it received, he says, “I knew I had a very good play, which was politically and emotionally charged. I knew I had excellent actors at hand. But, I didn’t realise it would be such a good play.”
Takalkar grew up all over Maharashtra, and did his bachelor’s in hotel management from Dadar Catering College, Mumbai. (The degree is finally coming to some use, as he’s opening a small cafe called Barometer in Pune this year.) After finishing college, Takalkar returned to Pune and worked as an animator, dubbing artist and video editor for close to seven years, and did theatre on the side with Shriram Lagoo’s Progressive Dramatic Association (PDA). “In 2000, for the state competition, PDA had entered [Girish] Karnad’s Yayati, and the director couldn’t do the play. Then, it was decided, ‘Mohit will do it.’ That was my first actual play. Yayati was an accident, and it stood first in the state competition. So, I started thinking, ‘Am I a director?’”
In 2003, Takalkar formed Aasakta, and in 2006, he ventured into theatre fulltime. “2006 was also [when I was] going through my divorce. That was the time I did a play called Tu, by Satee Bhave. It was based on 52 of Rumi’s poems. It was very coincidental that I had Rumi to deal with when I was going through a loss. Rumi and theatre changed my life. Suddenly, doors opened. We were invited to Kolkata, Chennai, Cairo.” The noted theatre critic from Mumbai, Deepa Gahlot, who saw Tu way back when, says, “When I saw Tu, it was very exciting — the way Mohit had used theatre and body and music. For someone from an untrained background to do something so unusual and effective. In Marathi, no one would do something on Rumi or Sufism. Almost everything he’s done [has] not [been] run-of-the-mill.”
Aasakta has since done about 25 plays; and it consciously chooses unperformed scripts. “Sometimes it is the writer who fascinates me, sometimes the cast, sometimes the story or the dialogue,” says Takalkar. “Marathi has always had good writers.” In time, Takalkar also became friends with these writers. “The first five to six plays happened, and suddenly I got some attention. I could go and talk to [Satyadev] Dubey anytime. [Vijay] Tendulkar used to call me home. [Mahesh] Elkunchwar and I became really good friends. Everyone was trying to help me, I don’t know why. Even Amol Palekar used to watch every play I did.”
Takalkar, who also moonlights as a film editor for parallel films in Marathi (the taglines for which is, according to him, “we don’t have money”), traces his aesthetic to the films he watched at FTII as a teenager. “I had enrolled in NFAI screenings, which still happen every Saturday. I was exposed to world cinema there. Bergman, Tarkovsky, Kieslowski, Ray and Ghatak. My use of music, colours, compositions, silence — it comes from there. I knew what I didn’t want to show; so what should be shown became clear to me.”