A powerhouse of talent

Sandalwood

A powerhouse of talent

To say that actor Chetan Kumar is different is an understatement as nothing about him can be a cliché. I have been fortunate to speak to several actors but there is truly no one like Chetan. Whether it is calling back when he has not answered my phone call or simply the fact that his repertoire of work is so varied and goes beyond the boundaries of conventional cinema — here is an actor who is worthy of being applauded!

Despite the fact that he was raised abroad, Chetan speaks immaculate Kannada. “Born and raised in the US, I would see art as a way of staying in touch with my Indian roots and finding meaning through stage-audience interactions. I would do stage performances in Kannada mono-acting, classical/jazz saxophone playing, story-telling and dancing across US.”

Chetan’s first break in the local Karnataka performance scene was in 2005 when he received a Fulbright scholarship to study gender and Kannada theatre. “I worked in conjunction with the National School of Drama branch in Bengaluru and travelled throughout the State working with theatre groups, researching the dynamics of performance and acting in a few Kannada plays. A year later, I received my first film break with Aa Dinagalu created by ‘Agni’ Sridhar.”

Chetan began his career as a Kannada stage performer in early 2006. “In our society where illiteracy is still high, performance arts have an incredible ability to influence minds. In rural areas, local theatre performances like street plays, bayalu naatakas and others help entertain and more importantly educate people. It was interest in this theatre that pushed me to get a degree in South Asian Studies with an emphasis on Comparative Theatre from Yale University and pursue grassroots Kannada theatre in India after graduation.”

Again, the runaway success of Aa Dinagalu was not something he expected. “Although hard work and attention to detail were a part of the filmmaking process, few including me expected the movie to make it big, considering many of us were newcomers. When the film became a commercial success, we were all happy about it, of course, but the unexpected professional twist compelled me to cancel the academic pursuits.”

Chetan has done a cameo in Raam and also acted in Birugaali, Suryakanthi and Dashamukha apart from Myna, which was a sensational success. However, ask him on why we see so less of him in the movies and he says, “I believe that an actor should not only be judged by the films he makes, but even the roles he rejects.

To be selective means to believe in the film and this trust also carries over to the audiences who look forward to a film, hoping there will be something fresh and likeable about it.” Again, he is clear that he has no preconceived notions before listening to the script. “I listen to the script, and if it strikes me, I take it up. Obviously, the story, team, and my role weigh heavily in the decision-making process. I am aware that a film takes six months to a year of dedicated efforts, so if I am going to take that plunge into a project, then no amount of money or influence can convince me otherwise.”

His other activities include modern dance, mono acting and instrumental music. “I enjoy playing the saxophone, whose companionship I’ve had for two decades now. Much of my saxophone training has been western/jazz. But I fuse my understandings of Carnatic ragas with it to make it complete and personal.”

Again, a lot of Chetan’s work deals with social issues. “The Endosulfan rehabilitation issue is something that I hold dear as it was one of our early social cause victories, where the government extended Rs 50 crore financial and medical relief to victims of the debilitating pesticide in our state’s coastal regions. We have been privileged by a system that gives us much more prominence than we deserve, so it is our duty to give back in all ways possible to make our society the best it can be.”

Presently, the actor is in discussions for two projects. “One of them is a period film based on true life narratives for which I have written the screenplay. I am also grateful for the opportunity to co-edit the English version of Kusumabale, written by Karnataka’s foremost intellectual and pioneering writer Devanooru Mahadeva.” Chetan certainly packs a punch in more ways than one!

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