The shift from Panama is finally paying off for Varoon Anand

The last five weeks have been good for dramatist Varoon P. Anand. First, Creamerica — a spoof on TV show CID, Humphrey Bogart and James Bond films — co-directed by him won ‘Best Short Film in 30 Minutes’ at the Spoofhmania film festival last month. Next, he was judged best actor at the Short+Sweet theatre festival for his performance in The Sum of Your Experiences directed by Ishwar Shunya.

“People are treating me with respect. People who didn’t want to work with me before, are now talking to me. I have lost the fear of myself,” he says. Often mistaken for an American because of his accent (picked up in International School of Islamabad), Varoon’s finally not being dismissed as the “white guy who wants to act.”

His initiation into theatre was in school in Islamabad, where his father was Deputy High Commissioner. But he went professional in Panama in 2006.

“I studied computer science and economics in colleges in the US (in Illinois and Florida.) I had lived in Panama earlier, knew Spanish and I love the place. You can walk down a single street and pick up really good musicians for a band. It’s relaxed, stable and the people are nice. I started working as a financial analyst. A few months into the job I realised I would either become an alcoholic or kill myself or both,” he reveals.

He joined the Theatre Guild of Ancón — a community theatre which primarily catered to US troops before they left the country in 2000. He worked as a photographer to support his passion. He even acted as a stuntman in Daniel Craig starrer Quantum of Solace, but cinema wasn’t his cup of tea.

He acted in plays such as Tennessee Williams The Night of the Iguana and Woody Allen’s Riverside Drive, with directors such Patricia Quinn, Danielle Scott and Kimberly Hall. But he finally found “that feeling of magic” in “Improv 8½”. Improv is a form of theatre where acting is impromptu. For example, the audience gives you a genre and a setting. And then you act.

“They gave me the setting of a rollercoaster and the genre was Opera. I was petrified but when I started acting, the world ceased to exist. It was only me and the stage. I did an opera act of a man refusing to go on a roller coaster. I am a believer in the concept of parallel universes and, at that moment, I felt I had the best of all worlds. At the end, there was a deafening roar of applause,” he says.

In 2009, he returned to Delhi. “My folks were getting older and Panama was getting less challenging. I knew I wanted to be an actor. Acting was living a like a video game player — living many lives. But I wanted to take up responsibility in the family,” reveals Varoon.

He started working as a marketing manager for an electronics magazine. “In Panama I took pictures of kids for their parents. If they liked it, they bought it. This job felt dishonest, selling people stuff they didn’t need. I quit in six months,” he says.

His parents always thought theatre was a phase he would get over with, but he told them he was serious about it. “Doing theatre was fine but I can’t do it at the expense of my parents. I was looking for a job in journalism. You still get to be idealistic and say the truth about stuff. But it’s really hard to get in and the pay is lower than what I made as a photographer. Also, I wanted a schedule, a job that gave me time for theatre.”

He currently works for a news magazine. He gets time off for theatre. He also runs his theatre company Kaivalya Plays.

He started off in theatre here, two years ago with Sunit Sinha’s Butcher of Quietly. But failing to win even a nomination at the Short+Sweet Festival last year, he became resentful of the theatre circuit. It was then he met Ishwar Shunya, who got him “to love theatre again.” They worked together on plays like Orgasm and The Midsummer Nightmare.

“I initially thought Ishwar was a snob. But I realised his technique had a discipline. He’s very relaxed. He lets you act, then points out nuances and emotions. He charts out a graph of the act. And it’s all a very comfortable environment,” he explains. He worked with Ishwar.

In their play in this year’s Short+Sweet, Varoon decided to abandon technique and go with emotion. “Theatre is like Zen Buddhism. You learn, unlearn and then understand how to feel. Instead of a subdued realisation, you learnt realisation of events in the scripts strike you then and there on the stage.”

He can’t believe it paid off. “When I came home with the award, dad said khana kha lo beta but my mother, she was proud.”