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A look at Gouri Nilakantan Mehta's play on 9 Jhakoo Hills

From using the music of 1960s to taking suggestions from the playwriter Gurcharan Das, Gouri Nilakantan Mehta left no stone unturned as she brought nostalgia to the stage for Delhi theatre lovers in the form of the play titled 'Nine Jhakoo Hills'.

Picture for representation purposes only

Theatre lovers in Delhi witnessed a unique showcase recently when playwriter Gurcharan Das’s play ‘9 Jhakhoo Hills’ was showcased at the Shri Ram Centre, Delhi. Gouri Nilakantan Mehta directed the production. Inspired by the changing India, the play themed around the incestuous obsessions of an ageing uncle, the hold of Indian mothers on their sons, and the eventual betrayal of sexual love at the backdrop of a changing social order.


Originally written in 1966, Das was inspired by the domination middle class had in those times.


“The most striking feature of contemporary India is the rise of a confident new middle class, which is displacing the old middle class. So, this play is even more relevant to the India of the 21st century. The new middle class is full of energy, drive and is making things happen. That it goes about it in an uninhibited and amoral fashion is also true. It is different from the older middle class, which was leisurely, tolerant, and ambiguous,” explains Das.


A2zoftrends spoke to Gouri Nilakantan Mehta and learnt about the production, her love for nostalgia and the relevance of the play in today’s times. Excerpts…


1. Why did you choose this play and any speed specific reason for showcasing it now? 

I am a Tamil native English speaker, and when I returned back to India after my masters in theatre, I realised that I had to learn Hindi, not only to speak but also write and direct in it, to be accepted here! Hence for 15 years, I did only Hindi plays to be accepted back to Delhi theatre circles. After I paid my tribute to the Hindi theatre, I chose to look into Indian playwrights who write in English. Indian playwrights such as Manjula Padmanabhan, Mahesh Dattani and Gurcharan Das have always been a centre and focus of attention. The specific need today is to showcase good English theatre written by Indians as well as others. Hindi theatre and regional theatre are vital. However, it is important that good contemporary playwrights of English, like Gurcharan Das, Manjula Padmanban, Mahesh Dattani (Indians) and Rajeev Joseph, Tennessee Williams, Marsha Norman, from the western world, to name a few, must be shown to audiences here. Theatre is theatre, Hindi, English, Marathi Tamil or even dialects like Dogri or Haranyi. In the coming years, I will be looking at English scripts and will try to produce regional scripts by other directors as there is a huge need for the same. 


2. What challenges (if any) did you face while directing the play? Did you take any inputs from Gurucharan sir as soon as you started working on this project?

The challenges I faced were difficult but I also overcame it, I first saw a grave challenge in the budgets of this play (as most directors in Delhi find them too). As I wanted to make the set design and lighting design aesthetic it was going to be costly. I must say here that my initial play was totally crowd funded!!!! Yes, I collected one lakh just by crowd funding and I accepted both small (Rs 50) to gigantic (Rs 50,000). The second major challenge was in casting as I wanted actors to fit the part perfectly. I had to keep trying new actors to find different layers to make it much more contemporary and yet be authentic to the play no matter. This time the play is even fresher as it has new faces who suit the part to the T. I was extremely lucky to have met Gurucharan Sir, through a very kind and passionate art supporter friend Amit Kapoor. From that introduction and initial meeting Gurcharan sir has given me his full focus and time to this project. He is more than willing to not only give his feedback but also take my own suggestions. He has been very involved in the play and is always willing to see and watch the rehearsals. I am extremely lucky to have a not only a playwright, but philosopher and writer like Gurcharan Das with me throughout this project.


3. Since the play tells a tale about the partition of India, can people expect to get teary-eyed or is there more to the play?

The nostalgia created by the partition is only in the background of the play. The audiences will get teary-eyed because they will be able to relate to loss of individuality in complex family dynamics, the loss of pride and prestige, the inner feelings of a young woman wanting to make a mark for herself. The audience hence will get moved by the contemporary themes that is highlighted. as partition is an important reference used only for character building that is fresh and relevant to India today.


4. How long did it take you to complete the play?

Any play takes me a lot of time, a huge amount of time to say the least. My next play Diary of Anne Frank will be finally done, in May to Delhi audiences, after 18 years of intense readings on the subject of the holocaust, and three years of trying to get performance licence from the agents abroad! Similarly this play took me over 10 months to put up! I had to take a lot of time with each individual actor, paid detailed attention to expression movement and style as it had to become relevant to the viewer. I must thank my team who also gave me hours of their time towards this project. I take a lot of time to do any play and this one is an example and Diary of Anne Frank that will be done after 18 years is a classic example!!!


5. Tell us about the actors who were a part of the play?

The most interesting thing about this play like others is more than 90% of the cast is new to the stage or have done very little stage work. And yet, they have taken to the stage most beautifully and their acting skills are outstanding! I am totally in the favour of giving the stage to fresh faces. One can’t keep on showcasing the old and seen actors again and again, like we often might see in other theatre productions. Nepotism or favourite actors is also is a part of theatre. All who have come on the stage through my plays come due to their own merit and strict auditions! Manuj Sharma (Mamu), Nisha Tuteja (Chitra), Sanya Bagga (Anusuya), Ansh Malhotra (Deepak) and Mini Om Saurabh (Amrita) are all new and Deepak Adar (PN Rai) is in this [play] due to his hard work and his merit in acting. Here after I auditioned, I closely observed the actors, and then only cast them. Again these actors also gave me their total focus, time and effort hence it is fresh and appealing.


6. Since the play is all about nostalgia, how easy or difficult was it to create the magic of the bygone era (in terms of the era, costumes, vocabulary, set designing, etc.) on the stage?

 A very good question. I created nostalgia in characters by using the music of 1960s, their popular hit songs ‘Kiska rasta dekhe’ and ‘Hum apki ankon main’ of archetypical heroes and heroines, like Dev Anand, Nutan, Raj Kapoor, Waheeda Rehman and Guru Dutt. I also decided to put large posters on the background to see themes of memory so that the stage feels ‘lost, lonely and yet to belong someone’. The cool shaded tones blue, pinks and mauve used in the costumes and lights give the sense of love and a ‘winter frost of Shimla’. Also, I have used a lot of props such as glasses, radio transistor, even mere pipe for Rai saheb, or a comb on the dressing table to enhance the feeling of the character and add to details. I would not call the process difficult or easy but exciting and totally loved every minute of this.


7. What do you expect people to take away from the play? 

There are many take-aways: I want people to think about ‘the over protective Indian mother’ does it work in their own inner lives. Also I want people to look at the hard work of their parents, in particular the Punjabis who migrated at the hard work they put in, should we throw it away or preserve it? I want people to reconsider ‘new money’ what is new money and why can’t the middle class grow, now is growing leaps and bounds. why should nee money be attacked? The play will raise many complex issues and Gurcharan Das here only wants these questions to be raised and seen, also the play uses and speaks in English like the way we do today so it is very relevant.

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Kudos dear Gouri for the hard work and efforts put up by you and your team. Many more successes in the future!


Well done Gauri Nilakanthan Mehta. Delhi needs a vibrant theatre scene and you are bringing it alive. Best wishes for Anne Frank’s diary. What a difficult subject to attempt for Indian audiences. look forward to it!

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