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How far he has traversed is clear from the fact that acclaimed Australian actor, Geoffrey Rush, of ‘The King's Speech' fame, wrote him a note after watching his production, ‘The Manganiyar Seduction'.
It read: “I felt boundless joy. My mind was dancing at the outer edge. My heart was hurting in the deep centre… you have made beautiful theatre that surprises constantly with hidden magic.”
Obviously Rush had a transcendental experience to write thus, a response most viewers have expressed after watching his shows.
Roysten is overwhelmed by the paeans and treasures the appreciation immensely.
But then he is fit for such accolades, if one goes by his brilliant productions that travel the world gathering commendations.
In a ‘A Hundred Charmers', an orchestra with snake charmers, he coordinated rustic, contemporary and Scottish Bagpiper tunes on the ‘been'. His ‘Manganiyar Seduction', was rated among the three top shows in the world by The New York Times .
His work with street performers got noticed in Italy and he was invited to conceive and direct a play on Italian director Federico Fellini in Rimini, which is Fellini's hometown.
While he worked on it, he was commissioned to stage a gig celebrating the 150th year of India's first War of Independence.
He choreographed 2,000 artistes that included puppeteers, jugglers, musicians, acrobats and related artistes to stage a riveting performance at Red Fort.
Connected to roots
Global as he may have gone Roysten remains truly ‘naadan', at heart. Food is his biggest connect after friends and family who are in Kerala.
After his initial years of schooling he moved to Good Shepherd's International school in Ooty where, as a student, he wrote and directed plays. He studied commerce at Christ College in Bangalore but his heart lay not in pursuing the subject and joining family business but in theatre. He found his way to School of Drama, Thrissur. Financially it was a difficult time for a young non-conformist and he fell for a tempting offer of a Rs. 650 scholarship at National School of Drama. As luck would have it, it was also the last year one could enter NSD without being a graduate. “That's why I feel Providence really wanted me in this field,” he says with certainty.
Here he found his creative footing and his Assamese wife Mandakini Goswami, an actor.
Graduating from NSD in 1994 he interned with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Back in India, he founded the Indian Shakespeare Company and directed ‘Othello', a play in black and white, in 1999, in which he used elements from Kathakali. The play won the Scotsman Fringe First Award and got him instant recognition both, national and international.
Roysten's repertoire is global; his art tools eclectic, many drawn from dying, art forms. His work has championed the survival of marginalised artistes, celebrated and presented them to the world.
“When it comes to art, I am more Indian, more global. I have grown up watching Kathakali, Chakyarkoothu, Koodiyattam…. but contemporary theatre exposed me to arts of itinerant performers.”
Ask him about his early inspirations and Roysten talks of just one nagging desire – to perform in London, it being the Mecca of theatre.
“I never thought of myself as a small town boy from Palakkad,” he says about his big dreams and bigger ventures, his desire to create things “never attempted before….to find a new language that would interest everybody.”
His six month stint at School of Drama was an exposure to the basics of theatre. “I didn't even know what a cyclorama was.” From carrying lights on his shoulders to sharing a cup of tea between seven colleagues, Roysten picked up the strings of the theatre world quickly.
At NSD, he got exposure to global theatre and cinema.
He struck an impressive debut with ‘Othello', a play that ran for 11 years. This was followed by ‘Goodbye Desdemona', ‘Romeo and Juliet in Technicolor', under his company Can & Abel productions. It was with ‘Much Ado About Nautanki' that Rajeev Sethi, an aesthete, who later became his close friend and mentor, noticed him.
Sensing Roysten's flair, he introduced him to the artisans at Shadipur depot, also called ‘Kathputhali Colony' that houses folk performers like jugglers, magicians, singers, snake charmers, puppeteers and acrobats.
“It was a mixture of extreme poverty and extreme talent. It got me hooked on to traditional street art.” And that's where Roysten found his art tools, the ‘masala' for his large scale productions.
Years of work
The sheer logistics of his operations are mind boggling. Involving manpower and years of painstaking work Roysten has always been captivated by the grandeur of existence; of beauty….. “it has to be grand,” he says.
But then he has done minimalist work too, the most recent being a one man piece with Rajit Kapur, directed and designed by him.
When the curtains come down and applause floods the venue, Roysten says he is subsumed by gratitude. “These are celestial gifts. I feel blessed at that moment.”
He has two major productions in the pipeline. But strangely even after such a wide opus Roysten feels that it's only now that he is ready to take off. But this time he will be doing so from his home state as he shifts base from Delhi to Kannur. It's a long awaited home coming he is looking forward to.
I never thought of myself as a small town boy from Palakkad