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Thriving on theatre: Salim Shah.
Thriving on theatre: Salim Shah.

MITA KAPUR

`Through my art I want to work towards peace,' says theatre actor Salim Shah.

Theatre is not dead yet. Every time oxygen is in short supply, it has been supplied.

WORRIED frown lines behind wisps of cigarette smoke. This was not the animated Salim, seen enacting "Ek Gadhe Ki Atmakatha" by Krishna Chandra, to a select audience in Jaipur. "Mein na Hindu hun na Muslim, gadhon ka mazhab nahi hota, mazhab toh insaanon ka hota hai." Satire laced with wit, he had had us ambushed by introspective laughter and compassion. An actor has to burn inside with an outer ease, Salim testifies to the Chekovian dictum truly - the smoke signalled his inner agony.

Process of acting

"We actors save our emotions like sms'. A tragic role makes you delve into your own memories, making it arise out of your self. It is draining. Comic roles are a kind of healing, like yoga. Refreshing but it takes a lot of rehearsing. The spontaneity comes in after that." Paradoxical, but acting is happy agony. "I still get stage fright. My mantra is `to be tense' or I will not be able to give my best." "Acting out a role is a process. The magic `if' - if I was that character how would I react, what was his past, his upbringing, influences, where was he coming from - forms an actor's `sub-text' before he gets into the script. Spontaneity at the time of execution is the `shine' on the face. I'm not into commercial cinema. Most of my roles in cinema or on TV are negative, or with shades of grey."

Satisfying roles

Salim thrives on theatre. "An Adding Machine", "Prisoner of Second Avenue", "The Proposal" had him playing comic roles. "There are no great or small roles, there are only great actors or small actors. My role in `Fanaa' required a good actor and I have a longstanding relationship with Kunal." He justifies his journey from `English, August' to Aditya Gujral in the `Saas... ' saga as a "survival factor". "I wouldn't call it a success, but it is not failure either. I'm lucky, out of 10 I get at least one satisfying role. The TV scene is like street vendors churning out bhelpuri on a Sunday. There will be hectic business; but people will soon get sick of street food and go to safer places. This phase will pass, good work will come." "Theatre is not dead yet. Every time oxygen is in short supply, it has been supplied. During this theatre workshop in Jaipur, I have added 60 members to the theatre fraternity. They will either become actors, writers or an erudite audience. Teaching people to act gives me maximum satisfaction. A correct approach to acting has to be taught, emotions have to be internalised. My desire is to open an acting school." "An actor can't relate only to living things. He has a bonding with things inanimate - the degree of involvement varies, he has to immerse himself in his role. Theatre is a written ritual. Usage of your own `space', body language, sound, costume, and movements have to fit hand in glove with the background and the `ritual's' setting. That's why the idea of holding theatre workshops began." Salim puts his money on the "cultivation of creativity". "We all are equally endowed. If there is inherent talent, we learn a little faster than the others. Who am I to pass judgements on `how good or bad he is' just because the `he' may not speak market English, for instance? I never discourage anyone who wants to act. That would be a disservice to my field. I believe that if you think you can do it, then you can. This culture of respect and recognition has to be cultivated in our industry. I also don't have a hero's face but I have managed to make a place for myself." "I am a small town person, idealistic, sentimental with abundant compassion. The eternal optimist, I know I will overcome and survive. Compassion towards your art and profession is essential. What will happen to your craft if you don't pass it on and let everyone be a part of it? Inclusiveness is the code of conduct."

Make a difference

"Why do we have so much hatred around us? Why do we have an Assam, a Nepal, a Darfur, why is there a conflict raging everywhere? Through my art I want to work towards peace. If I can make an iota of a difference to somebody's life, I think my life is well lived." Adapting literature to theatre is one of Salim's passions. Sharad Joshi's Bhoot Poorv Premikaon Ko Prem Patra, Sadat Hasan Manto's stories, Prem Chand, Elmore Rice's play into Hindi and Woody Allen's complex humour were all a part of his experimenting with literature. "Broadway with its grand budgets is magnificent but where is the soul? I can't relate Broadway to India though we have a greater reservoir of talent here." "Every failure and success drives me to an inward journey. Sometimes what `success' is to other people may mean `failure' to me. For all creative people, we have to continuously observe our environs and ourselves finely. `Inward' observation transforms into the outward - self introspection is a perpetual process." As an actor, you need to be vulnerable, reach the emotional and intellectual level of ability where you go out naked, emotionally, in front of the audience. Great acting always dances with danger, to what heights it can soar and what depths it can plunge - in that lies the triumph of good acting. Salim believes in and holds this close to his heart. E-mail: mita@kapurs.in

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