In late 1950s, a young man with a certificate from New York’s acting school was trying desperately to enter the film industry. When he met Dev Anand, the latter saw his degree and asked him why he should not teach youngsters to act, instead of wasting his time in meeting producers.
The young man, Roshan Taneja, decided to take the advice seriously. In 1963, he became a pioneer in training actors exclusively for films in the then Film Institute of India (FII). After 50 years, he is one of the most respected and celebrated teacher of actors in Indian cinema.
A documentary, marking the completion of 50 years of Professor Roshan Taneja’s journey, will be released in February. “I am satisfied with my career and, thanks to all my lovely students, it was an enriching one,” Prof. Taneja told The Hindu.
A veteran in training students, he says his heart is not in teaching anymore. “I don’t find the same level of dedication among newcomers. They want instant results.”
Jainendra Baxi of MedialexiconEdu, director of the documentary, The Choices We Make, said: “I met him [Taneja] first in March 2013 and was mesmerised by his career. He is the man who has produced absolute gems through his teaching. It was then that I decided to capture his journey.”
Born in Pakistan, Prof. Taneja moved to Raibareli with his family after Partition. Attracted to acting while studying in Delhi, he managed to win a scholarship at the Neighbourhood Play House School of Theatre, New York. He was the first teacher of acting in FII, which is now renamed the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). He quit the institute in 1976 and, consequently, the acting course was dropped. But in 2008 the department was reinstated in the presence of Prof. Taneja himself.
He quit Pune and started his own acting school in the late 1970s in Mumbai. But he did not earn instant success, as the concept of trained actors was yet to be established in the film industry. “It was Sunil Dutt who enrolled his son Sanjay in his school, and that was the point when things started changing,” said Mr. Baxi.
In the documentary, Naseeruddin Shah describes him as a teacher who inspired him, while Anil Kapoor feels that he is the best guru India’s ever had. According to Abhishek Bachchan, the greatest thing he taught was the difference between acting for stage and acting for film.
Over the journey of five decades, his training school too has changed in its form. “People come to me, expecting to learn acting in one or two months. I had no option but to go abroad to learn acting then and now people have a number of options but no time,” he said.