Ravi Dubey, the creative head behind the Mahindra Excellence In Theatre Awards(META), talks about his pet project and theatre in general

“Being called to be part of the Tata family put me in a bit of a dilemma. I had just established myself and Good Relations India, one of the earliest PR companies in the country, with a long, solid clientele. But the Tata offer was too tempting to resist and I decided to join.” The conversation with 55-year-old Ravi Dubey, theatre actor, creative director, Mahindra Excellence In Theatre Awards (META) and former senior vice-president, corporate communications, India Hotels Company, somehow seemed to be veering towards life in the corporate world.

Bucket loads of hard work, “I often rushed home at around 7.00 p.m. to spend some time with my daughters before they went to bed and then went back to the hotel,” and living out of suitcases buried Ravi's creative instincts into the long pockets of busy corporate life.

“Of course, it was not all about meetings and entertaining guests. Most of the big names from various walks of life stayed with the Taj and this threw open a wide canvas of personalities I got to meet. I don't want to mention everyone but then there were people like Jacqueline Onassis and Peter Ustinov with whom I went on to share a friendship for long.”

Now this chat was certainly going the wrong direction. Perhaps it was my fault, though we had started off talking about theatre and META, Ravi's dream project. We switch tracks.

Theatre and acting

Theatre and acting was something Ravi grew up with. “I acted in a television play when I was just seven. Madhur Jaffrey played a fairy. This association continued through school (St. Columbus) and college (St. Stephen's). “At Stephen's we had the Shakespeare Society, something that I started along with a group of like-minded friends. There was Siddarth Basu, Shashi Tharoor my batchmate and Lillete, who I married later. Theatre was an inseparable part of my life, a lover affair, a high, that I could never shake off.”

Ravi's enthusiasm and commitment to theatre was whetted when he joined Barry John, a British-Indian theatre director and teacher to start the Theatre Action Group in 1973, along with Siddarth Basu, Pankaj Kapoor, Roshan Seth, Lillete Dubey, Manohar Singh, Mira Nair, Pamela Rooks and others.

Theatre was then and has been a hand-to-mouth world and Ravi is one who has seen this right through. “Theatre has always been poor. There has always been a dearth of funds. I still remember those hard times. We used to gather at Barry's house in Delhi, wait for the sun to go down so that we could rehearse on the terrace of the building. We used to go around for funds, eat ‘dhabha' food, but yet pursued the dream.”

One reason, Ravi feels, for most talented theatre actors moving into films is this lack of money, financial insecurity in theatre. “Once they do a few films they express a longing to come back. Personally, I don't like acting in films. I did a role, in Amitabh's ‘Silsila.' That was enough. I did get a lot of offers but refused. I have seen Lillete stand before the camera, without an audience, mouthing 10-15 sentences, sometimes for hours together, till the director gets it right. There is no soul. That is why you only have stars and no genuine actors.”

It were perhaps these experiences that led Ravi to think about ways and means of linking corporates and theatre; bring in more funds and professionalism into theatre. “Even while working for Tata Group I maintained my links with theatre. This was more by helping Lillete, who had by then started her own theatre company, with scripting, casting and she even insisted that I give her inputs after the dress rehearsal. I also never missed a chance to watch a play.” Ravi made a comeback to the stage after a long hiatus in his wife's production ‘Sammy.' In this contemporary take on how Mohandas Karamchand became Gandhi, Ravi plays the Mahatama.

Ravi quit Tata after a long tenure. “One reason why I quit was because I wanted to do something on my own. Another reason was because I wanted to a lot in theatre, my passion.” He started a consultancy and after a short brainstorming session with Anand Mahindra, whom he had known earlier, the concept of META was realised. “We have a lot of festivals but no national awards. The initiative was set rolling in 2006. Our objective was to showcase the best of contemporary Indian theatre and award the best. This year we had a record 233 entries from across the country. And we are here to say thank you. We and the jury were extremely delighted to see ‘Spinal Cord,' a Malayalam play from your city bag seven awards including best play. Entries for the next festival is open, will continue till December 31 and if informed earlier till January 15.”

Future plans

And Ravi signed off giving a hint of META's future plans. “Our next step is setting up Mahindra Academy of Excellence in Theatre, though we have not set a deadline for this the blueprint is ready. We will have, apart from the faculty for various departments of theatre, counsellors, psycho-analytical therapists etc. We also hope to have links with important academies across the world and also guide students to find a career in theatre, television or even films.”

Keywords: theatre awards