"Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place."
When I was in Dental College in Bangalore, it was extremely vital for me to find a life outside dentistry. Dental study is an interesting but taxing occupation and a distraction is as crucial as any to maintain one's sanity. Circa 2000, in a pub-city with an erstwhile deadline of 2am, distractions were aplenty. However, one of the more worthwhile diversions had to be watching plays at Ranga Shankara; that beautiful theatre space conceptualised by Mr Girish Karnad. Each & every visit to this hallowed ground was, for me, ethereal. Right in the middle of this lush but concrete-ridden city, there lay an alternate dimension where you could apparate and be giddy & light-headed for the right reasons.
I never knew I'd be an actor one day, but I had always shown a keen desire in watching theatre if not being a part of it. Right from my boarding school days in Dehradun & Mussoorie, I witnessed some grand as well as threadbare yet impactful productions within & without. Some that remain fresh & everlasting in my memory are renditions of Tughlaq & Julius Caesar, as well as many of the sociodramas my own school in Dehradun put up. I still remember the scope of those sociodramas with awe; helmed by our music coach Mr. Joshi, who himself dabbled in nautanki in his hometown, Nainital. His plays were a perfect marriage of music & dialogue, with several actors & scores of singers. I was always part of the choir & did not act in these plays. However, I admired the manner in which he extracted gems out of rank amateurs, each and every one of us. Teachers like him planted the creative seed in many of us, and I've probably never acknowledged his contribution to my cultural growth until now. In my next school in Mussoorie, I finally progressed to being a prompter on Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap & then to playing an important character in An Inspector Calls. Dental Education beckoned thereon & theatre/acting was relegated to the background for a while.
The first professional play (by which I mean it wasn't a school or college production) I witnessed was "C for Clown" at Ranga Shankara, starring Vinay Pathak & Ranvir Shorey, amongst other brilliant talents, and directed by Rajat Kapoor. My hostel being nearby, I went to pick up the tickets in person. And who should I bump into but Mr Girish Karnad himself! That was the first time I experienced what is better known as "ohmygodicantbelieveimseeingacelebrityimsoexcitedimshiveringlikecrazy" syndrome. That play was my first confrontation with celebrities. I call it a confrontation because of the extremely upfront & direct connect the actors had with the audience, and what a sweet one at that. The play was in gibberish, and it established a basic notion in my mind; that art is ephemeral, it need not have a language, only a medium.
Years later, I moved to Mumbai and found, to my utter joy, a similar hallowed space in the famous Prithvi theatre. It is smaller & located in a very busy region (which pocket of Mumbai isn't?) but has the same, warm vibe as Ranga Shankara. It's edge, however, is that it hosts more multilingual plays than RS did & its cafe serves some mood-altering cutting chai. An ageing actor often practices his flute here which adds to the bohemian atmosphere. You'll often see playwrights & actors running around, or just hanging around. When he still could, Shashi Kapoor (son of Prithviraj Kapoor, founder of Prithvi Theatre) would come visit too.
Unfortunately, I haven't always had the time or like-minded partners to accompany me over the years & this great space had been denied me owing to my own constraints. So when I recently attended "Nothing Like Lear" by the same director & production, with Vinay Pathak as the solo lead, a lot many memories of C for Clown squeezed their way through to my mind's eye and a decision was made: hereon, a steady diet of theatre shall be had!
Many plays have been attended & enjoyed since, and a great many talents congratulated & admired. The plethora of talent in theatre is tremendous, and they're surely some of the finest in the country! Many actors, directors & plays have left an indelible mark (Nasseeruddin Shah being right up there with his voice, poise & inimitable pauses!)
Theatre for me, has always been far more gratifying than other forms of entertainment, including music & the movies. I wonder if some day, I'd graduate from my comfort zone within the audience and on to the spotlight & solitude of the stage. I have been on stage before but this will be different. To be absorbed within that circle of light as you animate what you inhabit, with agitation & stillness, silence & loquacity . It could be new & exciting, and change the way I think, and exist.
At a fairly young age, I'd tell people that I fear becoming a loner in my old age. I've always been a decently happy person & they'd be taken aback by my pessimism. Now, many years later, I realize that my premonition wasn't wrong, only incorrectly worded. A loner is cut-off from civilization, and rues that isolation. I'm not one & will hopefully never be. What I could become however, is a modern-age hermit who chooses to keep his own company than that of others. I say this because of late, I find it increasingly tedious to make small talk, back-slap and spend pointless hours in the name of bonding. When you walk into a room full of people you know well & do not want to stay for long, you know it's a sign!
I'm not an antisocial person; I just don't think socializing is all there is to my life. My alone time is just as divine & important. I'm sure many of you would agree. I also believe there's a higher purpose to my life than to spend partying or mingling more than is necessary. Time spent learning, reading, traveling is time well spent. Time with the 'right' people, although difficult to define & quantify, is a blessing. Work is worship & if you do what you love, then that itself is a better investment than hollow conversations borne out of boredom or an obligation to strike a conversation.
I may think differently in a few years. However, the idea of becoming a modern hermit doesn't seem all that far-fetched.
That reminds me; as a child I'd also tell people I'd never get married. Hmmmmm.....