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Talent at play

"Vocations choose people," said film and theatre personality Salim Ghouse in a recent interview. The Ph.D in karate recalled how his interest in poetry recitation and school skits eventually developed into a deep love for acting, which became a career.

KURUKSHETRA FIELD. Arjuna throws his weapons down before the battle, refusing to fight his clansmen. Krishna leaps off the chariot and tells the distraught warrior that his task is to do his duty without expectations of loss or gain. A recharged Arjuna picks up his bow and goes forth to war.

A familiar scene. But many of us remember that this was one of the finest sequences in Shyam Benegal's TV serial "Bharat Ek Khoj", where Salim Ghouse gave a stellar performance as the philosopher-god, creating magic rarely seen on stage or screen. No wonder cameraman V. K. Murthy got up and clapped when Ghouse delivered 40 lines in a single take, and the legendary Teejanbai exclaimed, "Your Krishna was most lovable!"

Born and bred in Chennai, educated at Christchurch School and Presidency College, the now Mumbai-based actor Salim Ghouse can now and then be seen in the city's studios or coffee shops. Though he has done roles on screens big and small, his heart is on the stage. He revels in producing plays from "Hamlet", to "Sufiana", his own take off on Mulla Nasiruddin `the wise fool', creating fresh challenges for himself in the process.

Premiered at the Prithvi Theatre festival last year, "Sufiana" begins with the actor seeing the world upside down. The striking visuals image the stages of birth, death and resurrection, finding direction through indirection, and sense through nonsense. "When I start directing I see only pictures," says Ghouse who has `seen' Shakespeare through the martial arts. In his Phoenix Players productions, the sets are minimal, the lighting imaginative, the visual is created by the actor's stance, movements — and sense of timing. From the start he has also produced plays in unusual settings, like "The Life of Christ" at the Lourdes shrine in Perambur (Good Friday, 1977) with the ramparts of the church for a two-level background, and the altar within for depth of field. "When the cast went in for the Resurrection, the 3000 strong audience followed." His "Shalom" on drug addiction became a prelude to the kinky haired junkie that he played later in "Subah", a serialisation of Sivasankari's novel.

Salim Ghouse and Anita Salim in a scene from "The Merchant of Venice."

Ghouse enjoys his interactive sessions on Shakespeare from the performer's perspective in schools now, just as he was earlier heartened by theatre workshops with factory workers. Secularism is a strong element in his plays. "Natural, I have a Muslim father, Christian mother and Hindu brother-in-law. My family celebrates Diwali, Id, Christmas, everything."

"Vocations choose people," Ghouse laughs as he recalls how poetry recitation and school skits made the young top-ranker opt for acting as a profession. Another schoolboy passion was for the martial arts — Salim took lessons from Karate Mani, became his best disciple, to whom the master gifted his own belt before he died. Now Ghouse holds a Ph.D in karate (7th Dan belt in Okinawan Goju-ryu). The martial arts are powerfully present in his individual and group choreography in the theatre.

Ghouse's international projects include parts in films with Peter O'Toole and Pierce Brosnan. On the stage he was applauded for creating a Ravana with originality for "The Legend", Aamir Raza Hussain's spectacular "Ramayana" in Delhi.

Ghouse has known disappointment. "Film maker K. Balachander's rejection traumatised me. Eventually, it spurred me to do things I might not have done. I also began to write poetry, I still do, and plan to publish when I gather more courage..." The practice of martial arts helped to develop inner strength, self-reliance and meditational attitudes. "If you want to be different you have to go through the process for it," he shrugs.

The Pune film school course brought wife Anita into his life, with whom he set up his theatre company. "It helped me grow as an actor, neither television (I don't want to jump on the Ekta Kapoor bandwagon) nor the film industry (I don't want to play mindless goons they call character parts) will do that, and Mumbai can just swallow you up with bedroom farces in the name of theatre." Ghouse does have good experiences to recount about his Madras film stints — especially "Vetri Vizha" where he played antagonist to Kamalhaasan. "Ilayaraja loved my performance and remains a well wisher."

Don't ask Salim Ghouse about his future projects unless you want to be daunted by his tireless drive. He has a script to film in Hindi and Tamil, a play on a metaphysical theme to direct, TV serials and film roles for both survival and change, plans to go to China to study with the top Tai chi grandmaster, visit karate's hometown Okinawa, continue research in Vipassna, Marmam and Reiki, and do a doctorate in the healing disciplines. "I also want to go deeper into Tai chi, where meditation reaches a non-verbal state of pure awareness, the ultimate meditation art.... "


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