FROM THESPO TO THE AKVARIUM
I have a Microsoft Excel file in which I maintain records of what I owe to members of our repertory for the shows they have done. As the outstanding amount grows, the frequency of visits to this file goes down, so as to avoid going into a depression. However, I opened it recently, avoided looking at the numeric values within and made an interesting observation. Of the 50 people that I pay / owe with the most regularity, 25 started their theatrical journeys with Thespo. Not including me, the paymaster, also a product of the same. This article, being a part of the Thespo edition of The Script, covers a few of these 25 principal players that have played parts in my life in the theatre.
I first saw this certifiably insane woman screaming her head off as Martha in the Thespo screening of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Her performance was uninhibited, passionate, and filled the room with a manic energy. It was also one of the strongest reasons that the play made it to the finals. A few days later, over lemonade at a suburban restaurant I discovered that her true personality was uninhibited, passionate, and filled the room with a manic energy. I was hooked. Not too long after I cast this queen of profanity to play Gulab Bai, the queen of nautanki in Afsaneh: Bai se Bioscope tak. It was a risk, but it paid off, and her brazen yet endearing portrayal won her a nomination for Best Actress at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards. Today, with a Thespo for Best Supporting Actress (for Proof) under her belt, she is not only the actress I work the most with, but one of the strongest support systems that Akvarious Productions is blessed to have. She also runs her own theatre company, (ibid.), which produced both parts of Classic Milds.
If I didn’t know that Sid Kumar was genuinely a nervous wreck, I’d say he spent all his time trying to mimic Woody Allen. He is one of the funniest (sometimes inadvertently) and nicest people that I know. Also one of the finer actors I know. I saw him first at Thespo in The Shadow Box. He worked with me soon after, and then went back to act in Ends and Beginnings at Thespo. Then worked with me some more, and went back to put in another great performance in Confessions at Thespo. He then directed Damages, for Thespo, which qualified and firmly established how close his sensibility was to mine. And now to prove this, just last week I opened Sid’s fantastic first play as playwright – The Interview – which I directed. Basically, this lad’s growth has been so immense that I now work for him.
Back when I was young, but still not young enough to do Thespo, I was called for the awards night to give out the Best Supporting Actor trophy. I did, to this young man, who had shown a lot of promise in a version of Kafka’s The Trial. We missed an opportunity to work together, he went on to direct Confessions – a rather fascinating but difficult play - with much competence for Thespo. He came back into my life with a bravura performance in the Thespo screening of Damages. Once he started with us, armed with his pet lion, he moved swiftly from replacement actor to production support to ballet dancer to masochistic music operator to little sardar to director (Proof, again for Thespo) to lead actor (recently, in The Interview). This year his Thespo life came full circle as he was chosen to be on the screening panel.
Microsoft Word has just indicated that I’m way over my word limit. Perhaps the editor will be more giving in this Thespo edition. Anyhow, here on the brief bios get briefer.
Actor par excellence. He managed backstage for the big winner of the first Thespo. Set the stage on fire with his performance in Dhandha, also at Thespo. Towering over all the work he did with us was his performance as the transvestite Agrado in All About My Mother. Displayed some serious acting chops and great legs. Now a big star of stage and screen, no one quite has the audience eating out of their hands like he does. One of the ‘gifted’ ones.
May her tribe increase. Again, like Anand, was part of Sadia, the big winner at the first Thespo. She worked with us soon after and took great pleasure in slapping me across the face in a handful of shows and umpteen rehearsals of Once There Was a Way. Then Mumbai theatre went through a terrible phase when she decided to quit for a while and do TV. Soon after she returned, and accompanied me on the Thespo screening panel. She was mobbed often during our cross country trip. She’s back now, working with the likes of Makrand Deshpande, and hopefully early next year, with me.
I first noticed him in Confessions. Then spotted him lurking in Whistling Woods. Then saw him shooting performances at Thespo. Then spent many nights with him shooting close to 60 corporate films in banks across the city. He now works with us rather regularly. His work on his characters already has a legendary status. While he is prone to strange and sexually deviant behavior on occasion, he is a very committed and focused young actor.
Bending the rules here. First saw her in a Kumar Sanu music video and developed a big crush on her. Then suddenly saw her march into Prithvi Café one evening. Yes, she marches. She seldom walks. Then saw her in that same screening of Damages. Which I finally went on to co-produce. The decision to do so was not independent of her presence. Her acting was also commendable, considering she picked up a Thespo for Best Actress. Of course, soon enough she became an integral part of our most successful, longest running production, All About Women. She is now a sought after theatre actress, and one of the few who can afford to be choosy!
Again, not exactly a Thespo product. I saw him first in Crab, in a role I was auditioned for. I think he scored a little higher in the looks department. But I noticed him, again, in Damages. He then went on to star in our production of Proof. His critics might say that he apes Naseeruddin Shah and Hugh Grant, but the fact is that he is a very fine actor. And that he actually apes Robert Downey Jr. On a serious note, Ali’s a hugely talented boy on his way to big things. And he’s fantastic in our production of A Guy Thing. And he’s a big hit with the ladies.
This man was always connected. I saw him give a wonderfully subtle performance in the screening of Damages. An hour later he was sitting beside me watching the next play, which was technically competing with his. And taking photos. I knew then he was a force to reckon with. Then discovered that he edited The Script. Which meant he was the man with the power to slash my articles. I discovered an acting bug, and chose to exploit him. He played significant parts for me on stage, was a quick change artist and evolved fast. Just as we were beginning to depend on his skills (both on and off stage) to save Indian theatre, he migrated to Canada, to bring hope and strength to theatre people there. No wonder he is often referred to as He-Man. Well, here’s hoping that he comes back to Grayskull soon.
This is a bit of a footnote. This illegally young lad showed great resolve in All About My Mother. He then seduced me into giving him the lead role in The Interview, despite the fact that the play he last played lead in was rejected at the Thespo screenings. He also slyly managed to share the stage with the very man who rejected his Thespo play. We then discovered that we had met him before. He had been part of a play that I had trashed when I was on the panel. He chose to remain mute about that, and owing to my age, my memory failed me. When this came out, the reactions were strong. It was just short of a scandal. But he had a firm foothold by then and he smiled smugly. This boy will go far. And clearly, even failure in Thespo is a good career move.