Be it kitchen or stage, seasoned theatre practitioner Ashok Purang is all for riyaaz

The other day the crushing reverberation of a polythene bag filled one with sound virtues of simplicity. The bag belonged to seasoned theatre practitioner Ashok Purang and we were at Noida’s hep and happening Flluid in Mosaic Hotel. A vegetarian who doesn’t allow even the leafy material for garnishing to go waste, Purang asks for apple juice as the drink can blend with the ambience of the lounge without him trying something hard.

Known in Delhi theatre circles as a hard taskmaster, Purang, founder of Pierrot’s Troupe and Showbiz Action Players, is now making news as the creative producer of Filmistaan, the small film with a big heart, which sees Indo-Pak relations from the prism of Bollywood.

It was Purang, who stood by director Nitin Kakkar and the script when the producers, who come from real estate background, were astounded by the fact that the film has no heroine. “They kept on looking for opportunities to find space for an item number and I kept stone walling their attempts to kill a watertight script. I kept on telling them that even if this won’t recover money it will give them enough respect in the industry that no actor will refuse to work with them. Ultimately, they left the creative decisions of Filmistaan to me and decided to back another film to fulfil their cravings. That film is still waiting in the cans while Filmistaan has not only won critical acclaim, it has also made profits,” says Purang while working on cheese cigarellos with tomato velute.

While curating short film festivals, Purang came across a number of talent young directors who have the vision but don’t have the links in the film industry. Nitin Kakkar was one of them. “He came to me with a short film and there are many like them who don’t have the confidence to tackle a producer who understands only what has been done before. He will say make a Kholsa Ka Ghosla for me but won’t back an original idea.”

Purang says it has a lot to do with the hierarchy in corporate houses. “Shyam Shroff of Shringar films happened to watch Filmistan and decided to buy it. Had it gone through the creative executives, they would not have been able to find a reference point. It is easier to pass a half baked idea with a star because if the project fails, the blame passes on to the star but if a small project tumbles, the heads of the executives are in line. So they prefer to play really safe.”

Purang has a script ready for a children’s film but is still waiting for a producer. “It is set in 1930s and the corporate houses feel that a children’s film has to be contemporary. I often joke that I have to adapt it to London but what I will do with mango trees.” Meanwhile, he is putting his skills as a creative producer to revive a musical. “It has been left in the lurch because the actors who were once part of it have now become big names and don’t want to be seen part of a jinxed project but I know its potential.”

As he opens subz ki potli, Purang says he has been fascinated with different kinds of cuisine. When he was learning French at Alliance Francaise, he used his services to teach French to a South Indian lady to eat Chettinad food. “I struck a deal that I will teach her provided she would feed me South Indian food every day. But I didn’t know that she is not adept at cooking. Her poor husband had to come early from office to prepare the delicacies,” relates Puran moving on to Andhra paneer tikka.

When he shifted to Mumbai, Purang, with no training in kitchen, used to put different vegetables in the pressure cooker and make a paste. “It would last a week but soon it became boring and slowly I discovered my interest in cooking. Now I can cook for myself and others. It doesn’t taste the same all the time but I am working on it. Perhaps, it has something to do with the chhaunk. It is an art. Every person does it differently and I am learning to find my stamp,” he quips while tackling falafel in pita pocket.

A much sought after acting coach, Purang says like classical dance, acting also requires strict riyaaz but often youngsters look for crash courses. “You should be able to play at least 100 characters before you take stage. Acting is about internalizing the traits of characters. Physical attributes automatically fall into place. One of my students went for vipassana and what takes new entrants many days, he passed through in a couple of days. When the guide was surprised, he told him that my theatre teacher has already taught me how to focus.”

Purang always emphasises the importance of healthy food in theatre training. “Often, youngsters turn up for classes without eating anything or try to survive on tea to remain in shape. I send them back. Sometimes, even senior actors take the need of food lightly before a performance. I was doing a solo with Vicky Ahuja and I found him drained out three days before the play. He didn’t notice it while doing 13 hours of rehearsal every day. He said it is not significant but as a director I could gauge that he would faint on the day of the play. That night I took him out for dinner and asked him not to hold himself back. Then I gave him a one day break to just eat and sleep. He was nervous but I told him that I believe in his talent but right now his body needs attention.” Time to look for polythene bag which is silenced by the air conditioned environs!

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