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High on drama

Kaushik Shankar was a good student in Class X when theatre barged into his life

Kaushik Shankar: an unusual take on things

KAUSHIK SHANKAR gets it all across in his introduction. "I'm 19 and I've directed three plays and written one," is his impressive opener. He got on stage for the first time when he was four, playing the insignificant role of a lamb in a school Christmas production. Eager to take centrestage even then, he says he "bleated the whole stage down to steal the spotlight from Jesus and Mary"! This unlikely debut was followed by his next stage venture years later at age 14, in Class X when he was under considerably larger pressure — the group of students rehearsing My Fair Lady for a play fest was abandoned one week before the performance by their director. Only four of the cast knew their lines. Their attendance, which had fallen woefully short due to rehearsals, was at stake and could only be compensated by actually staging the play. Enter: Kaushik. Ever the man of the moment, he stepped in, offering to take over. He juggled directing and acting (as Professor Higgins) and won the Best Actor title in the process.

Parental dictum

But instead of taking the most obvious route after this and opting to study theatre, Kaushik found himself following parental dictum and enrolling for a rigid PCMB (Physics, Chemistry, Math, Biology) at National College. The process was painful, Kaushik remembers: "I walked in on the first day and ran out immediately." Some explaining to college authorities had the desired effect: Kaushik sat home and studied enough to get through his PU exams and then did his CET, got into Ramaiah College and National Law School as well, but chose to take the Ramaiah seat.

Moulin Rouge

Waiting for college to begin, he did what any bored adolescent would do on a long summer break — watch movies. And then the inevitable happened. Kaushik fell in love. He had been to watch the blockbuster musical Moulin Rouge, and fell uncontrollably in love with Nicole Kidman. Being proactive, he immediately signed up and became a fan club member, ordered her play The Blue Room through Gangaram's, and decided to stage it.

He describes it as a play about intimacy that is sexually explicit. "The final cast was incredible in dealing with a play of that nature," he reminisces. The play sold tickets at a flat rate of Rs. 200 and broke even, birthday, but McDowell's came in at the nth minute with an offer of sponsorship, and soon, Kaushik enjoyed the luxury of a fully sponsored play and gleaming billboards around the city announcing its premier. "All three shows were sold out," Kaushik says, "and on the last day, there were some 400-something people, even willing to pay to stand and watch. Midday and Hindustan Times gave it reviews and the attention it got was nationwide," he says.

Goodbye to college

Catapulted into the (somewhat) big league, he gathered the courage to tell his parents he was quitting college. He had given his engineering course a good shot, he says, but it made "no sense to waste four years". He was pretty sure he wanted to do full-time theatre, but his parents insisted he finish his undergraduate studies. So next stop, Christ College, and next theatrical venture, Dinner with Friends — "my first non sexual piece" staged at Thespo, the theatre festival in Bangalore and Mumbai. The play went really well at both venues, says Kaushik. The Mumbai staging clashed with another of his ventures — a retro night featuring four decades of retro with singers like Sharon Prabhakar participating in the all night extravaganza.

Supper theatre

It was a week of "mind boggling crap", Kaushik remembers, but again, he managed to pull it off.

But all's well that ends well, and both ventures were successful.

Kaushik is now working on a series of plays for a supper theatre setting and is currently at a theatre symposium in Italy. He's set himself a deadline of January 1, 2007 to leave the country to go abroad and study theatre, but before that "I want to make sure I have a certain amount of credits under my belt," he says. He wants to have dabbled in other kinds of theatre including musicals, Shakespeare... the list goes on.

Kaushik can be contacted on (not surprisingly)


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