Peopled by heroes, villains and quixotic characters the world of William Shakespeare caught the heart and mind of a young Madhav Sharma four decades ago. His passion for the bard grew as he toured India and the Far East with Geoffrey Kendal’s drama company, Shakespeareana, playing different characters. So smitten was the budding actor that he left India for England to see the home of Shakespeare. Madhav straddles the three worlds of India, England and Shakespeare seamlessly. For one who began his dream journey in India moving on to the heart of theatre, London and working with top drama companies and directors, he has seen it all. He has to his credit distinctive work in theatre, films, television and radio. His title role in Hamlet, directed by Joseph O’Connor is one of his memorable performances among many others. Some of his films are Entrapment, The Awakening and East is East. His radio plays include Midnight’s Children. He has done extensive work with audio books. He is currently working on a film on the Jews of Kochi.
In a freewheeling chat he talks about his work that bridges the worlds of art and literature. Excerpts from an interview:
You have acted in theatre, film, radio and television. Which genre remains most challenging?
They are all different in different ways. Theatre is exciting. You have the power to make the audience concentrate. You can see the reaction immediately. Radio opens up the imagination. I had to play a six feet six inches Polynesian for a BBC World Service play. A young girl once wrote to the director general of the BBC that she preferred radio to TV because the pictures are so much nicer. You cannot compete with what is in the mind and that is what I like about radio. Films have a different charm. The camera can go right into your soul. That’s the excitement of TV and films. I enjoy doing audio books and doing the voices of young, old, men and women. It’s my job to do all the voices.
After dedicating your life to theatre, how do you look at acting as a profession now as against when you began?
Acting is a curious thing. You think you can put on a cap and become a burglar today, wear a crown and be a king tomorrow and do all those things. And yet there is the little bit of you that comes out. There is something about the power of the stage, which is why you know theatre came from religion. Acting is an act of worship. It is a celebration of life and humanity. You understand yourself by trying to understand others. It’s a paradox. I used to love Raj Kapoor as a young boy. It’s a spiritual journey to find yourself. Not everybody should go into this profession. Lot of rubbish is being done in the name of art. For me acting is just as difficult. I still get stage fright. But it remains exciting.
Being an Indian on English stage, tell us about your tryst with accents.
I started training with the Kendals. My first production was with Shashi Kapoor in 1960. I did voice training exercises with Laura Liddell and the teacher at RADA, Clifford Turner, found me way ahead of the others. He said I did not have regional accents getting in the way. Those days it was called Standard English where you tried not to show which region you came from. Now it is called received accent, it is a political term. The imagination helps you create accents. I have never had problem with accents.
One of the marvellous things about Shakespeare is no matter what accent you play it in or where it is set it works.
Shakespeare brings you here. How much of the bard is relevant today? Is Shakespeare losing or gaining ground?
I am going to say something controversial. Academics are the death of Shakespeare in my opinion. The text in front of you is dead. I had a very good teacher, B.C. Ramachandran Sharma, a Kannada poet. He taught me the love for language. Shakespeare has to be taught in participation. In England Shakespeare is having a renaissance. There is a lot of interest from big names from films. There’s a feeling among actors that if you can do Shakespeare you can do anything. All the subjects in the plays are relevant even today.
Tell us something about this current play
The play is a collaborative effort between two people, the director Miranda Lapworth and I, who share a passion for Shakespeare, India and England. The play draws parallels between my life and the bard’s. What made a south Indian Brahmin boy from Bangalore pursue Shakespeare and come away to England? Why did Shakespeare speak to me? I thought his name was Shesapan Iyer. He is so universal. Who would have thought that a man born in Warwickshire 450 years ago will talk to me? My Shakespeare is going to be very conversational. It has 30 quotations from different plays of Shakespeare interweaving my story with his.
Madhav is in the city to perform, for the first time in India- Bharat, Blighty and The Bard, Shakespeare For Everyone. The play will be staged at David Hall, Fort Kochi on April 21 at 5.30 p.m. Entry is free.