He's funny that way...

juggling roles

He's funny that way...
“Characters are like girlfriends. You always end up liking the latest one the best,” says actor Saurabh Shukla, about his popular role as the humorous Judge Sunderlal Tripathi of Jolly LLB films. Known for his comic characters, the cute and cuddly actor was in Bengaluru recently to stage his much-lauded extramarital comedy 2 To Tango 3 To Jive, in an event organised by Round Table India and Ladies Circle India.

The play recently reached the landmark of 100 shows, and the veteran theatre actor couldn’t be happier. “It is indeed heart-warming, and completing 100 shows is a great high. This is even more special for me, because I started my career with theatre. And when I shifted to Mumbai, there was a gap of 18 years when I didn’t do any plays. With 2 To Tango 3 To Jive, I made a comeback to the stage in 2012, and ever since, the play has been graced by a houseful audience.”

The play revolves around the life of its protagonist Parminder, who suffers from midlife crisis, and ends up vying for the affections of three women. “I relate to Parminder. I sympathise with him and understand his quandary. We all know about midlife crisis, but experiencing it is a completely different ball game. It’s really funny that one morning when you wake up and everything seems all right, you feel that something is wrong. Suddenly, you start losing interest in things, your confidence is shaken, and you start questioning your journey in life.

When you are experiencing midlife crisis, it seems scary, but when you come out of it, you tend to see the funny side from an outsider’s point of view. So, in the play, you see Parminder’s dilemma from a third person’s point of view and also understand and relate to his pain.”

And what better way to address the issue than by making people laugh. “When I decided which play I should come back to theatre with, I had two objectives in mind. Firstly, I wanted to connect with the larger audience, and I find that humour is the most popular way of getting in touch with people. At the same time, I didn’t want it to be a laugh-a-minute comedy. I wanted something that people can take home with them,” he explains.

Saurabh entered the theatre circuit in the 1980s and joined the NSD Repertoire Company in 1991. A National Award winner, Saurabh’s film journey started off with smaller roles, until he shot to fame as Kallu Mama in Satya. And from then on, his characters have had comic undertones, whether it was Inspector Dutta in Barfi!, Tapasvi Maharaj in PK, or Judge Tripathi in the Jolly LLB movies.

“It is actually about the way I look at life. All my characters are not particularly comical, they are pretty serious in their lives. Like for example, Kallu Mama is not trying to be funny, he means business. But he has an inherent sense of humour, which is primarily because of the situations he is in. I think everybody’s life is funny. It is just that you either overlook it, or you take notice of it. Which is why humour always reflects in my work. Whether it is writing, direction or acting, I like to see the funny side,” he says.

Despite having a successful run in films, Saurabh stays true to his theatre roots. And his plays 2 To Tango 3 To Jive and thriller Barff  have seen him take the stage as an actor, and also call the shots as a director. When asked how he fits into both roles, Saurabh explains, “I have never differentiated between them. If you ask me what is the best way to be an actor, I always say that you must write. Writing is the primary source of imagination, and an actor has to have imagination. So when you start writing and you act, they complement each other. So, in all my work, whenever I do two or three things together, the tasks complement each other. So, I don’t find it difficult. And whenever I am acting under my own direction, I depend on the views of people around me, my co-stars, or even the audience.”

When asked why he is still drawn to theatre, the actor says with a chuckle, “I really haven’t figured out ‘the why’ yet. But one thing I have realised over the years is that films are a big economic activity. A lot of money goes into making a film, and whenever there is a lot of money involved, you are answerable to that money. So, you tend to play it safe in movies, and you try to speak the language of what is accepted. Whereas in theatre, as the quantum of money is not so big, your motive is not money. It is more idea-driven, and there are more chances of experimentation in theatre than in cinema.”

Having said that, Saurabh has mixed feelings about the general assumption that theatre makes one a better actor. “I don’t think that having a stamp of theatre makes you a better actor. Not doing theatre is not an obstacle in becoming a good actor. An actor is not merely because of his or her craft. An actor is made because of ideas. The way you look at life, the way you look at the society, the way you react to other people, makes you a certain kind of actor. Theatre is a slow-cooking process. It gives you the chance to polish your craft. Since movies are all about making money, when you reach the sets, you better know your job. There you can’t ask for time to understand your role. In films, you start on a turbo mode, and you run with that pace. And for that, you need to have experience by your side, and you should be confident of your craft, and only then can you perform,” he says.

Saurabh will soon be seen in Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif-starrer Jagga Jasoos, which is directed by Anurag Basu. He is also excited about his latest play Barff, which has already completed 25 shows. “Barff is very close to my heart. It is an edge-of-the-seat thriller, which makes it special. In Indian theatre, we have seen all kinds of plays, but thrillers are quite rare. It is visually quite challenging, as it is set in Kashmir. The story is set during a blizzard and revolves around the lives of three characters,” he says.

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