BENGALURU: It’s easy to get slightly confused while reading Pankaj Kapur’s new novella. Are you reading a book? Or perhaps watching a movie? “Everything I write has a strong visual aspect to it, because that’s the medium I know and think in,” says the theatre and film actor and director, who was in the city for the Bangalore Literature Festival. Titled Dopehri, Kapur’s debut novella presents the life of Amma Bi, an elderly widow who lives alone in her haveli in Lucknow. Every afternoon, she hears the sound of unknown footsteps but no one is there. Amma Bi eventually takes in a lodger, Sabiha, who then transforms her life.
“I don’t really know where the inspiration for the story came from,” says Kapur, as he mulls over the thought. He continues, “I’d say it was from the women in my life… My grandmother, mother and other women I know in that age group. My love and concern for them must have stayed in my subconscious when I sat down to write Dopehri.”
But there was more that happened when Kapur put pen to paper with this story. The initial idea was to set the story in Mumbai but when the actor started writing, the first words that he came up with was ‘Amma Bi’. “And suddenly, the whole story was transported to Lucknow,” he says, adding that the story was first penned 27 years ago, in a matter of just four days. It was, in fact, the actor’s wife, Supriya Pathak, who urged him to publish it. “She wanted to see it published and I’m definitely happy that her hard work has led to us having this book in hand today,” he adds.
And it’s through this book that Kapur wanted to touch upon some larger themes as well. Aiming to make Amma Bi’s transformation from being lonely to one of self-discovery organic, he adds that he wanted it to be, “The story of a woman who realises she’s something on her own and it’s not just the role of grandmother or mother that she plays.”
The book also pays attention to inter-relationships in a quiet manner. “I did this without making it Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai types. For example, Amma Bi and Saxena are quite dependent on each other. While talking about Amma Bi’s story, these things have been subtly talked about, without making it a big deal. At the end of the day, that’s been a bigger achievement for me,” he says.
While Kapur does hope to produce more books in the future, acting is still his “first love”. He says, “But I enjoy writing as well. Especially this sense of amazement that you get when you realise, ‘Have I really done this? Have I written this?’ But both acting and writing do have their positives and negatives.”
When it comes to Bengaluru, Kapur only has good things to say as he calls the city’s audience alive and receptive. “I look forward to coming here to perform because the audience is educated and responds well to what I do. So, I’m happy to be here.”