How and why Theatre?
As a school kid, I performed in school plays. I used to do elocutions, I learnt dance so I was sort of exposed to performing arts at a very early age. My father is a painter, my mother a writer. So I did grow up with the arts, that was something that was all around me in some sense. Then I did street theatre just after school with Jana Natya Manch, a group from Delhi BITS after Hashmi had started it. So I worked with him for almost four years but at that time the motivation wasn’t so much to act as opposed to the issues that Jan Natya Manch was taking up. In some sense I think that was like my political training more than my acting training.
I did a play with Barry John, I did a play with M.K. Raina, I did a play with Habib Tanvir so I was sort of dabbling with it more for the fun of the experience of it. When a group of people come together you’re telling a story, you rehearse, you find those little nuances. It was just a fun thing to do.
You act and perform in different mediums. How does your preparation for a role change with each medium?
When you’re seen as a serious actor people think there must be some deep method and they always ask me “what’s your process?” and “give us some tips” and I only wish I had one. The only role that I actually ended up preparing for I never ended up doing it. And which was for Water (directed by Deepa Mehta). I shaved my hair, I spent time with all the widows in their ashrams to understand what it is, how do they feel about their bald head or he saris that they wear or they beg and their stories and all of that. And I didn’t end up doing it.
Most of the characters that I’ve done are very real people. They’re just so human their emotions are universal. So you don’t have to be that to understand how they think and feel and at some level you’re just drawing it out of your own emotions and we all have all those emotions. We have all those thoughts, we have anger, we have prejudice, we have love, we have compassion, we’ve empathy, all of that we have it we just draw it out.
So my process is to be honest is nothing, but to young people I would just say be an observer of life. I mean don’t think of life and art or acting or theatre as two separate things like “oh I’m going to watch this actor and learn from that.” When I watch a good film or a piece of theatre, I’m not watching as an actor at all. I’m watching as an audience. If the play or the film is really good, then I’ve forgotten everything. I am in that story, I am crying and sighing and laughing with that story and with those characters.
According to you, what is the scope of improving the Indian theatre scene?
How do we define theatre? Your definition of theatre might be different from mine and even that definition is a constantly fluid thing. People are performing on the street that’s also theatre, people are performing in buses that’s theatre, there’s Parsi theatre with completely loud singing and dancing and then there are musicals and plays that are very realistic and minimalistic. There is silence theatre where there is not a word, there is dialogue heavy theatre. We tend to label theatre too much in the sense we’re trying to put them in all these labels. I just gave all these different names and we compartmentalize it and then we don’t have enough ways of learning from each other. We sometimes become like bit in a well and then exposure gets limited with what I am and what is available to me. How does one open one’s horizon? How does one think out of the box?
Is Indian Theatre dying or evolving?
I want to believe that it’s an evolving. Why should it die? Theatre actually cannot die. It’s been there for years in different forms. What is art? It’s a reflection of our times. So the kind of theatre we produce now is a reflection of our time. So if we’re not producing good theatre part of the blame is because we’re living in such times where everything, you know economics is guiding art, it’s interfering with art, people are seeing our theatre as a stepping stone to films, not seeing it for its sake. It doesn’t pay enough money so it attracts a certain kind of people, I mean there are a whole lot of issues with theatre but there are also people who just do it really for the love of theatre.