In a dialogue with theatre

In a performance of Jannal  

Ever heard of an actor who went for an audition without a portfolio? Meet Anandsami. “In 2001, when Vijay TV became Star Vijay, they remade Kyunki Saas Bhi Kahbi Bahu Thi in Tamil and I went for the audition. At the end, they said I’d done a good job and asked for my photos. I handed over my passport-size photos.” Anand laughs at the recollection. “They had to explain what a portfolio was and told me to go and get some professional photos taken.” He went on to do about 10 episodes of that serial.

I am talking to Anand about his forthcoming show in Coimbatore and the conversation is marked by an undercurrent of laughter and self-deprecating humour. Today Chennai-based Anandsami is well-known in the theatre circuit but he got into that field by quite a circuitous route. After his television stint, “I decided to try my luck in films. So I got a portfolio shot and did the rounds of production houses. A friend who was working in television had been to Kootu-p-pattarai and suggested I join the group.” Anand joined Kootu-p-pattarai in 2002 and planned to stay with them only for six months. He ended up staying for eight years. “At first I thought it was a waste of time but slowly I realised the value of what we were doing.” He is now with Perch, another theatre group, where he has spent at least seven years.

He’s done films, theatre and television but claims the last was so long ago “that I really don’t remember anything about it.” He has some funny stories to tell about his stint in films as well. “In 2003, I acted in a film called Parthiban Kanavu, in which I acted alongside Srikanth, Devan and Vivek. After the shooting, I went for the dubbing. An assistant director was in the studio and, when he saw me, he asked, ‘If you do things like this, how am I supposed to give the sound for the hero?’ I had no idea what he was talking about. It took me some time to understand that, even when the focus was on someone else, I was continuing to ‘act’.” This, he says, taught him the importance of understanding the medium he was working in. “That film is a great example of what not to do,” he says emphatically. “And the lesson holds good for theatre as well.”

Given that he wanted to be in films and has made his mark in theatre, is he satisfied with what he has achieved? “I am very happy that I went into theatre,” he says. “When I get offers for films, I ensure that it doesn’t interfere with any plays that I have.” So if he had to choose between the two, I begin, “I would choose theatre,” he jumps in without hesitation. There is more money to be made in films but it’s not difficult to make a living from theatre, he assures me. “I do around 40-50 shows and almost 90% are paid. So one can easily survive with just theatre alone. More so if you do corporate training and workshops.”

This has also helped bring in a new lot of people into theatre. “There is a new energy, new blood... lots of young playwrights and directors now,” he says, “but quite a few think of theatre as a launchpad for films, especially because many Kootu-p-pattarai actors have become successful stars.” But he hastens to add that this is not a bad thing. “I did the exact same thing.”

Speaking of playwrights, I ask him about scripts. “In Kootu-p-pattarai, we had Muthuswamy sir [Na Muthuswamy, the founder of the group] who was himself a playwright and director. Some plays are classics so, whether it’s foreign or Indian, there is a sense of pride in staging them. At Perch we adapt plays but make it our own. Like, How to Skin a Giraffe was an adaptation of Georg Büchner’s Leonce and Lena. It is a politically charged play so we used the references to Indian politics.”

Political plays in such a vitiated atmosphere? There hasn’t been a problem so far, says Anand. “We did Jujube, about an evil king called Idiminnal with strong political references, especially about dictators. We performed in Colombo when the Rajapakse government was in power. It didn’t even occur to us that we were from Chennai and the civil war had just ended. But we didn’t have any trouble.” When they performed the play again during the Mylapore festival in Chennai soon after demonetisation, “there were many comments but nothing overt.”

Lastly, I ask him about Lens, the 2017 film that won many awards and was also critically acclaimed. “Yes, it did very well but I had to work really hard for it.” In what way? “Well, I had to lose weight and change my look.” And why was that hard, I press. “I am basically lazy by nature,” he says apologetically.

Showing over the weekend

In Coimbatore, Anand will perform two plays adapted from Sundara Ramaswamy's stories. “I had performed Seethai Mark Seeyakai Thool with three others in 2004. My introduction to Jannal came via filmmaker RV Ramani who was making a documentary on the Tamil author. He asked me to read from the story for a voiceover. In 2008, I decided to adapt the story as a solo act and asked Muthuswamy sir to help. He directed it and it was premiered at the Kalachuvadu 100 celebrations. In 2010, I was asked to perform at Madras Terrace House. Since Jannal was just 20 minutes, I added Seethai Mark... also as a solo act. I have now completed more than 50 shows of these two plays and am very happy to bring it to Coimbatore."

Anandsami will perform at 641, 7th Cross, Bharathi Park Road, Saibaba Colony on February 24 & 25. The performance will begin at 6.30 pm and will be for 40 minutes. Since seating is limited, it will be on a first-come-first-served basis. Contact 9894350810 or 95006 41043 for more details.

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 4:00:53 PM |

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