Is Theatre Really A Good Career Option In India? Here’s What The Artists Say

Posted on June 2, 2014 in Alternative Careers, Culture-Vulture

By Nishant Chhinkwani:

The stage was set, the curtains were drawn. The auditorium was packed to the rafters, an unusual sight given that a neophyte theatre group was presenting its first production. The spotlight spun around at the centre stage character’s footsteps, following him like a hawk eyes its prey. It was a mesmerizing sight. Standing at the wings of the stage, I could see it all. And suddenly, it was my cue to get to the stage.

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgettin’
What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won’t come out
He’s chokin’ how, everybody’s jokin’ now
The clock’s run out, time’s up, over, BLOW!

That’s right. Eminem’s One Shot (8 Mile soundtrack) sums up the storm inside me at that moment.


Welcome to the world of theatre!
The first thing one has to know about theatre is that it’s not just some artsy like-minded people coming up with random ideas, penning down simple and complicated scripts or boring dialogues, hanging out all day discussing philosophy and poetry with jholas and kurtas and beards as proud accessories to flaunt.

On the contrary, there’s more, much more to theatre than that.

The production design, stage design, costumes and props, preparing scripts, rehearsals that stretch into wee hours of the morning, printing flyers and distributing them, setting up billboards, taking care of the light and sound requirements- It’s practically an insult to just call it play when it’s so much work.

There was a time when it was inconceivable to think of theatre as a career option. As little as a decade ago, you would have been likely to be boxed in the ears by your family had you mentioned theatre as a career you would want to pursue, but the times are changing, as aptly put by Rupkatha Sarkar, founder member of LOK, a prominent youth theatre group in the city of joy.

When asked about pursuing a career in theatre, she answers with a bubbling, infectious optimism, “Theatre as an art form is coming back from obscurity. That is what happens when the youth take an active interest in it. We now live in a time where people, especially the young, aren’t afraid to follow their hearts and chase their passions. Earlier it was inconceivable to live off theatre, but thanks to a renewed interest in the art form, call shows from various organisations, corporate house sponsored events and even some Government grants, theatre may even help you earn more than a run of the mill MBA.”

There is a distinct ring of truth in the above statement and the facts show it. Especially in states like Maharashtra and Gujarat, commercial theatre is very popular and has its own dedicated audience. The Mobile Theatre of Assam is one of the most successful, urban, commercial theatre movements in the nation. Apart from being remuneratively viable for the artists, it also has opened up a gamut of possibilities in terms of technological innovation. Besides, various institutes like the National School of Drama, Nandikar etc. have moved with the times and have adopted a more varied approach to theatre in terms of allied careers like sound and light designing, apart from the usual academia of acting, direction and script writing.

Satyam Bhattacharya of Hypokrites, another prominent youth theatre group in the city, also subscribes to the above view, albeit in a tempered manner. “It is not impossible to achieve success in terms of remuneration that will put one at par with B school graduates, but it’s definitely more difficult. Having said that, I am hopeful that the future has better things in store.”

On the other end of the spectrum of optimism that is both bubbling and tempered, however, lie a few disillusioned voices, who think there’s still a long way to go for theatre to achieve popularity as a mainstream art form in the country. Ananya Sen, a veteran of several productions and an active part of a few theatre groups in the city is unequivocally cynical about the future of theatre in the city, though she agrees some parts of the country have a really good environment for theatre to thrive.

“I think that theatre movement, especially in Kolkata, is very confused and haphazard as to where it wants to go. It’s stuck between a time warp of the 1970s when the Naxal movement was making waves and the fairly recent agitation of Singur and Nandigram. Theatre as a form of protest is essential, but what after that? As a form of entertainment, theatre has a long path that is cobbled with uncertainties.”

She also laments the power games of political parties when it comes to the livelihood of theatre artists.

Minerva Repetory was an initiative started a few years back to promote theatre in Bengal. It would pay artists on a regular basis to practice their craft, with full fledged productions being produced at intervals. After three successful productions, Raja Lear (Based on Shakespeare’s King Lear) being the most prominent one, the Repertory was dissolved, allegedly because it ran into trouble with the new government. Under these circumstances, with no support whatsoever, it is difficult for an artist to sustain himself/herself and the family.”

The outlook differs with circumstances and people. By the looks of it though, theatre has made serious inroads in the minds of the young about considering it as a serious career option and has become viable in some parts of the country. After all, there’s nothing quite like making a living for loving what you do.

The curtain fell to thunderous applause. The production was a hit, and as we bowed together, humbled by the love showered upon us, the joy that swelled inside me cannot be described. I knew this is what I had to do the rest of my life. This is who I really am.