Theatre, movies, success, failure and doubts, Vinay Varma plays the sutradhar of his life.

Vinay Varma is defined by what he isn't. For a theatre person he isn't plagued by doubts, dilemmas or creative quandaries. Curt to the point, he is not given to garrulousness as if his mind is bubbling with words and ideas. No. He walks in for the interview and sits down with a finger tapping his lips and an expression: “Okay so what is it that you want to know.”

It is the very same kind of cockiness that Vinay Varma credits for this tryst with theatre when he was doing his MA in sociology in the University of Hyderabad. “My career in theatre began on September 14, 1980 when I played the part of a young man in Coffee House Mein Intezar.

It almost appears like a symbolic kissa kursi ka where the netaji and the young man fight for a chair in the coffee shop and of course with his wily viciousness the Netaji wins.

“It was the post-Emergency phase, the wounds were still raw and perhaps they wanted a character who could communicate the arrogance and unbending nature of youth,” says Vinay thinking about his campus days.

The same streak of singular thought continues in Vinay who has always insisted that his plays be ticketed performances away from the lobbies of hotels and expensive auditoriums where the flash bulbs pop on the swish set and hoity-toity and during the performances every next conversation is: “haan haan bolo mein sun raha hun, mein yeh play dekhney aya…

Ticketed performances

But ticketed performances are walking the edge between sanity and insanity. “Sometimes during a performance I can realise that the play hasn't clicked. Most people see drama with that exhilarating quality of success that can be palpable on the stage. But failure is much more palpable. At that point of time you have to trawl your inner recesses of mind to hold it all together and take it completion. For a performer, theatre is to never give up even when you know it is a failure,” says Vinay.

Vinay's focus in performances is taken to the extreme where the sets are the bare necessities. “Hyderabad doesn't have good auditoriums. If there are good ones the maintenance is lousy. Telugu University auditorium has an intimate air about it, it has good acoustics too but the maintenance is poor,” says Vinay.

Vinay appears to revel in opportunities where he can get under the skin of the character. The two roles that Vinay revels in are the two extremes of the spectrum. While Nathuram Godse's motivation was driven by a rabid right wing thinking, Rahi Masoom Raza was a staunch secularist.

In a world of Prithviraj Kapoors, Naseeruddin Shahs, Shabana Azmis where movies are part of the continuum of theatre, Vinay has had shots at moviedom where he played parts ranging from the evil machinating don in Telugu Veedhi to Hindi Mukhbir. “Now I am planning to make a movie. I am looking at scripts and I have realised that I don't need crores of rupees to make a movie,” says Vinay whose company Sutradhar sources talent for movies.

The richly layered material for Rahi Masoom Raza was developed by Varma and his team during a theatre workshop from a Hindi journal called Abhinav Kadam. To compile the script Verma tapped Raza's son, Nadeem Khan and Raza's wife, Nayyar Jahan. “The result was such that many people tell me that Raza saab behaved exactly like the character on the stage. Others wanted to know how many times have I met him,” says Vinay with a smirk.

If the realism of Raza is one aspect, the histrionic excesses of Nathuram Godse is another but how else does one communicate the angst and complicated ideas across the stage? “You have to live the role on the stage but once you are off the stage you have to come back to reality otherwise you become a neurotic,” says Vinay.

It was this courage of conviction that led Vinay to give up his cushy job in Dena Bank: “There were trying times when there were hardly any roles and sometimes the bank balance would slip to zero but suddenly I used to get a role or an assignment that would help me continue my tryst. Now I am living my passion. Life doesn't give you a second chance. In a blink of an eye your life is over. I didn't want to have that regret and I don't have,” says Vinay whose dream is to stage Jean Genet's Deathwatch.

The play set in prison where two people try to change the perspective of the third person almost the kind of intense play with which Vinay began his career in theatre thirty years ago.