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…keeping it real

PHEROZE L. VINCENT
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THEATRE N. K. Sharma is invisible but ever present. He tells PHEROZE L. VINCENT about his sabbatical and plans to stage a comeback

OF THE PEOPLEAct One’s N. K. Sharma outside his adda at the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust on Feroze Shah RoadPhoto: R. V. Moorthy
OF THE PEOPLEAct One’s N. K. Sharma outside his adda at the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust on Feroze Shah RoadPhoto: R. V. Moorthy

But Sharma has been absent from the stage for almost three years. His last play was Tum Jahaan Kahin Bhi Ho , an adaptation of David Greig’s The American Pilot , which starred Huma Qureshi of Gangs of Wasseypur fame.

“These days plays have become events. Everything is about profit and marketing. I don’t know marketing, so I decided to take a sabbatical,” says Sharma. Off the stage, Sharma — or Pandit ji as old fans call him — has spent his time coaching youngsters. These include Imran Khan, Ayushmann Khurana and Yami Gautam. He’s expecting a visit from Kunal Kapoor soon.

“I’m not going to name all the actors who’ve come to me, because whatever success they’ve got is due to their own effort and not mine. Also, aspiring actors want to learn a few tricks to become a star. Because I work with film stars, they think I have some magic wand that will grant them these tricks. Learning theatre for them is a routine like a dance workshop or a gym workout.”

For Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola , a satirical film on agrarian politics in Haryana, Sharma made lead actor Imran Khan hang out with five Rohtak boys for weeks, to imbibe the Haryanvi accent. “My ways are not clichéd. Acting is something that can be learnt, but never taught. You learn from life. A person should be real, true to character,” he explains.

Sharma puts them through processes that bring out their strengths and weaknesses. “I introduce them to the craft of speech and diction, talk about trends in art and culture. We work on their strengths and something that has almost been forgotten in theatre — stance. We work on everything: postures, gestures, costumes, to use the body as a means of communication.”

Sharma never went to drama school. He began with the Jana Natya Manch (Janam) to retain his association with Communist Party of India (Marxist), despite working for the government whose service rules prohibit political activities. His hundred flowers bloomed after the Emergency was lifted.

“The first play I acted in was Machine , India’s first modern street play, in 1978. I worked with Safdar Hashmi, Manish Manocha, Rakesh Saxena, Arun Sharma and Moloyashree Hashmi. After years with Janam, I started by own group Act One in 1990.”

Sharma is against the trend of shifting the spotlight from the actor to the production. “This is the typical insecurity of directors. They call it post modern theatre, a different language they say. You may use all the techniques in the world — multiple screens, grand sets — but the human angle is always the cornerstone.”

He explains that the spotlight is shifting from actors due to the lack of stories. He attributes this to the blows struck to theatre, intellectually and financially, by economic liberalisation.

“You must be interested in people if you want stories. Shakespeare lived before Marx, but he wrote working class stories. The Panchatantra was all about the triumph of good over evil and the desire to live. Stories are going to come back. Look at (Steven) Spielberg’s last four films. The spotlight will return to the actor,” he adds.

This spotlight will probably be manoeuvred by Sharma himself as he plans to return to the stage this year. He’s tight lipped on the details, though it is learnt that he’s been observing the country’s leading scenographers. “I want to try out a new sort of theatre. Neither proscenium nor street, something closer to community theatre that can be adapted to any space,” he says smoking his fourth cigarette.

…aspiring actors want to learn a few tricks to become a star. Because I work with film stars, they think I have some magic wand that will grant them these tricks. Learning theatre for them is a routine like a dance workshop or a gym workout

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