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Lokvani Talks To Theater Enthusiast And Director Mohan Dali

Chitra Parayath

Meet Mr. Mohan Dali. Theater enthusiast, director, actor and community leader. Taking a trip down memory lane with Mr. Dali is like visiting the world of Indian Cinema is the 50s and 60s. He peppers his accounts with interesting anecdotes and recalls the golden years of Marathi and Hindi Theater in Bombay.

Mr. Dali is getting all ready to direct the hit play ‘ Shatranj ke mohare’ which will be staged on November1st, at the Burlington High School. The play is being organized by the IAGB(India Association of Greater Boston). Mr. Dali has long been an active member of IAGB and is currently one of the directors of the organization.

Lokvani: How did you get into acting/direction? We have heard that you directed Rajesh Khanna in Shatranj Ke Mohare, how did that happen?

Mohan Dali: In 1953, I was in college in Bombay and I was friends with Vijay Anand( Goldie, brother of Dev Anand). He had written a play and wanted me to act in it. I was also interested in theater so I took it on and the play went on to win the inter- collegiate competition in Bombay. We were invited to perform in Delhi too and there also we won awards and we met Nehru ji and the president Dr. Rajendra Prasad gave us the award.
I was bitten by the theater bug! But I was more interested in directing that in acting and I started looking around. Very soon I became involved in the Hindi Theater scene in Bombay.
When I was casting for Shatranj Ke Mohare I was approached by Rajesh Khanna’s older brother who asked me to cast him in the play. Also in the play were Manmohan Krishna and Kader Khan and some other actors who went on to Pakistan and became stars there. We played to packed houses everywhere and at one show the late great Actress Geeta Bali saw Rajesh Khanna and decided to give him a break in films. Unfortunately, she became sick with small Pox and passed away soon after.

Lokvani: You were assistant director to Basu Bhattacharya for the film’ Teesri Kasam’ starring Raj Kapur and Waheeda Rahman. How was working with those high profile stars?

Mohan Dali: It was a great experience. Basu wanted me to act in his film but I told him that I would act only if he let me assist him in a film. I remember, one day Basu wasn’t at the sets and we had to start shooting. We were filming the famous song from Teesri Kasam ‘ Sajan re jhoot mat bolo’ on Raj Kapoor. The backdrop was of a moving road and Rajji was in his bullock cart singing. Somehow, he wasn’t being framed into the shot, so I began to guide him to move so that we could film the shot. At first he was a little shocked that ‘who is this stranger who is so much younger directing me’? But we soon started chatting, and became friends.Then he would invite me often to the RK studios. And incidentally, I did act in Basu’s film as promised. My heroine was Anju Mahendru.

Lokvani : We know that Dev Anand is a personal friend of yours, how has time and distance sustained that friendship and how is he as a person?

Mohan Dali : Dev Anand is always Dev Anand. Even in person, at home, he is the consummate star. Always impeccably dressed, polite and a perfect gentleman. I met him when I was working with his two older brothers, Chetan Anand and Goldie. We used to practice at Chetan Anand’s home and Dev was often there. Thus began our friendship. I don’t have any answers to how it has sustained time and distance but we do connect often.

Lokvani : When did you move to the Boston area? Have you been as active in Theater here too?

Mohan Dali: We moved here in 1973, my wife was a scientist at the National Chemical Laboratory in India and she was approached by Dana Faber to move to Boston to continue her research on Cancer cure. Initially I did not want to move but then I relented and we moved here. I had a chance meeting with a director of Hancock and soon landed a job with them.
When my wife passed away in 1990, I was a little depressed and at a loss of what to do. That’s when I got an opportunity to direct a Marathi play. Soon I was acting in plays and since then I have been very active in Marathi Theater. My son, Rigved is a filmmaker and presently he is making a mainstream American film.

Lokvani: Please tell us about Shatranj ke Mohare, why should people come and see it? What is so special about it?

Mohan Dali : This play is very funny, it is also very deep. This play will give you food for thought and is an out and out entertainer. All the local artists acting in this play are very talented and I am sure everyone who attends this show will be happy that they did.

Lokvani : Thank you Mr. Dali. We wish you and your team lots of luck.

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