In Focus: Theatre as a Profession

Posted on January 20, 2010 in Alternative Careers

Sahiba Singh:

Theatre of India began with the Rigvedic dialogue hymns during the Vedic period, and Sanskrit drama was established as a distinct art form in the last few centuries BC, since then it as been evolving.

The Indian theatre has been playing an important part in our lives. Theatre is not restricted only to stage plays, but includes street plays, gestures and musical dramas, etc.

Unlike international theatre actors, the theatre actors’ life in India is not easy. The biggest problem being the money! People are apprehensive about investing in learning the nuances of theatrics as being a theatre person doesn’t churn out great money as it does for Bollywood actors. Many a times, theatre artists pitch in funds and capital, themselves. “Every theatre artist knows there is a lot of struggle but we are passionate about it and that is enough for us to go ahead with it”, states Kumar, a budding theatre actor.

There is no dearth of opportunities for people interested in theatre. Almost every art college has drama societies for its students. “It provides exposure and experience to the actor within us. It’s an excellent platform to judge our talent and to know whether we are cut-out for it or not”, shares a 2nd year KMC student, Kanupriya.

With changing perceptions over the years, many acting schools have been started by veterans; Whistling Woods by Subash Ghai and Anupam Kher’s Actor Prepares, to name two of the prominent ones. These institutes have an extensive curriculum covering every aspect of the entertainment industry.

The Whistling Woods International has full-time intensive courses which span over two years and provide world-class training across all technical and creative aspects of film making, television, animation & other media arts. Students are given hands-on experience of drama, acting and film-making. The specializations available are: Acting, Cinematography, Direction, Editing, Business of Film & Television, Sound Recording, Design and Music Production, Animation and Screenwriting.

Actor Prepares has trained some of the finest actors of the Indian film Industry, including Deepika Padukone. Many internationally acclaimed directors such as Danny Boyle and Shekar Kapur have lavished accolades on Anupam Kher’s Actor Prepares. The school currently has 3 branches namely Ahmedabad, Chandigarh and London. The school also has a sizeable collection of films and books/journals to facilitate the learning of cinema. Actor Prepares also has a Talent Placement agency, which is constantly called upon by major film and television production companies to refer actors and actresses for their projects.

A majority of acting schools are located in metros and big cities. The Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), for instance, offers a two-year post-graduate Diploma Course in Acting. Asha K Chandra’s School of Acting in Mumbai offers a three-month Complete Film-Acting Training Course. The Asian Academy of Film and Television in Noida (Uttar Pradesh) offers a 1-year Diploma in Acting for Film and Television. The Imago Acting School run by Barry John in New Delhi offers a 3-month Diploma Course in Acting.

All these schools provide proper guidance and expert opinions which help in making students better artists. Though the majority of the students are bollywood aspirants, there are many who are interested in taking up theatre as a full time profession. “Theatre gives me more pleasure than movies. We get the audience’s reaction then and there. And seriously I’m not interested running around trees”, says Sneha Khanna, a student of Whistling Woods.

The Mecca of all aspiring actors is the National School of Drama (NSD), New Delhi. Its alumni list boasts of well-known names like Nasseruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak, Meeta Vasisht, Pankaj Kapoor Vishal Bharadwaj, Ashish Vidhyarthi, Anurag Kashyap and Om Puri. These people may be working in films and serials but none of them have forgotten their first love- “theatre”.

With NSD now being a stepping-stone to serious roles in the Hindi film industry, it seems unlikely that the theatre movement will kick-start again. “In some ways I am responsible for it. I was the first one to act in Hindi films but I remember I never left theatre. I am often asked why I switched to films. I never did. I did theatre regularly,” Naseeruddin insists. And his several memorable theatre productions from “Gandhi vs. Gandhi” to “Ismat Apa ke Naam” are proof.

The Prithivi Theatre is one of the most famous theaters in Mumbai, started by Shashi Kapoor (the youngest son of Prithviraj Kapoor) and his wife Jennifer Kendel. Since they both shared a passion for theatre, they decided to go ahead and make this dream a reality. Now the theatre is managed by their daughter Sanjana Kapoor. It has given a new lease of life to budding artists.

If you are passionate about theatre then there’s no stopping you, let your dreams take wings.

The writer is a correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz.