All the world is a stage...

Theatre talk

All the world is a stage...
In a year, 340 days are dedicated to theatre. The remaining 25, says Shernaz Patel, are packed with feature films, web series, short films, voiceovers. “Theatre is my home and all my passions reside here,” shares the actor and producer who has been changing the Indian theatre scene over the last three-and-a-half decades. “You also have to look at it financially. Those 25 days help me to do what I love for the rest of the year,” she quips.

We are at The British Council Library in Bengaluru, celebrating 15 years of Writers’ Bloc, a remarkable initiative started in association with Rage Productions (co-founded by Shernaz, Rajit Kapur and Rahul da Cunha) and Royal Court Theatre London. “Theatre is more than acting. It’s a visual medium that needs dialogue... every piece has to take the story forward,” says the actor, who aspires to discover and train new playwrights from smaller towns, and in more Indian languages. “This year, we had three entries in English, three in Hindi, two in Marathi, and one in Tamil. It’s lovely when it becomes multilingual.”

Magic of theatre

Some of her earliest childhood memories are of being backstage with her brother and sister, as her parents brought countless characters to life onstage (in Gujarati and English). “The third bell would go, and we would be standing in the wings, watching all the action, the quick costume changes... the magic of theatre. I remember the applause,” recalls the Mumbai-based artiste, who took to English theatre while in college and later did her Masters in acting from the prestigious Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

Best remembered for her role in ‘Class of ’84’ (which has completed over 200 performances and is still going strong), Shernaz is keen to do a comedy, something she hasn’t attempted before. “I enjoy farce. The open-closed doors, the technique. I would love to do that,” she shares, with childlike enthusiasm.

Any genre she doesn’t fancy as an actor or audience? “Melodrama. It’s so unlike human beings. We are always trying to be heroic and strong. When someone sheds two glycerin tears, it does nothing. But when someone is trying to hold it in, I feel it’s more truthful,” expounds the performer, who conducts acting workshops for aspiring actors.

Her own method

Having acted in mainstream Hindi films such as Talaash, Black and Guzaarish, Shernaz believes that theatre actors certainly have an advantage over their onscreen peers in terms of being able to constantly practice their craft and “be in the moment”. However, the rest is the same.

And not all theatre actors are method actors, she points out. In fact, Shernaz doesn’t quite fancy the term. “Method acting is a process of arriving at a character. Something I haven’t studied. I use my own method,” maintains the Naseeruddin Shah fan. “He’s a very giving actor who is not selfish, and doesn’t need to steal the scene,” says the actor, who first worked with him in the play ‘Arms and the Man’ while she was still in college. They recently acted together in a short film, Interior Café Night, that’s gone viral online.

As far as Indian theatre is concerned, Shernaz admits that there are a lot more people exploring it as a career option today than two decades ago. The audience base is growing as well, she says. However, the infrastructure remains abysmal. Most cities barely have any theatres; there’s no government funding. “Financially, we are still struggling,” she rues.

Even today, it’s not easy to make a living out of theatre alone. Most artistes need a day job, or a parallel profession. But they are willing to rough it out to keep their passion alive. “Why are we using adult colouring books? Because art gives us a form of expression, whether we do it professionally or privately. It could be anything — music, dance, theatre,” explains the thespian who plans to take theatre workshops to schools. “Kids perform from the day they are born. Role playing is a natural human instinct. But we put a stop to it after a certain age,” says Shernaz.

Her dream is to build a world where the isolated digital natives of today have a platform to gather and meet other human beings; where emotions find expression in myriad languages onstage; where all the stage can be one’s world.

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