I find my own self by performing different characters: Teekam Joshi

Lived several lives: Teekam Joshi  

In life he plays the roles of teacher, actor and director, while the myriad roles he has played on stage mark his personality with the air of a man who has lived several lives. Theatre artist, Teekam Joshi, is the recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for acting this year. In the midst of teaching a theatre module at the Panjab University, Chandigarh, the versatile actor opens up on his craft and concerns.

An actor prepares

“The preparation to get into the character is very rigorous,” says Joshi. “I approach a role through the body — the spine, breath, postures, the walk, the voice, and most importantly the character’s thought process.” Concurrently performing shows of almost 15 plays at various venues, Joshi is deeply immersed in the study and performance of the role of Gandhi presently, for the play “Bapu” directed by Bhanu Bharti. The play traces the last days of Gandhi, before and after the Partition. Reflecting on the challenges of essaying a historical personality of such stature, he says, “The way Gandhi is understood today is the larger than life image of this towering personality. As an actor, it takes a lot from inside you to not be overwhelmed by the image and to comprehend and portray him as a regular but complex human being. A lot of the preparation involves reading, researching and reflecting on his quotes, why he said something, his life context and to trace his thought process.”

Joshi emphasises that apart from the character, the genre or form of the play is a crucial factor in determining his approach. Elaborating on the example of his role in “Bapu”, he says, “This play is in the mode of realism, so to be as close as possible to the image of Gandhi, I started wearing dhoti, living frugally, experiencing the bare-bodied sensation of the way he dressed was important. I attempted to capture how he would sit, walk, stand.” He points out that make-up and costumes are major aspects that bring the character alive for an actor. “After make-up, when I see myself in the mirror as Gandhi, it changes something inside me. It is like carrying a character inside your body.”

In another recent production, Joshi wears multiple hats as director and as an actor essaying two roles. The bilingual play “Agg Di Ik Baat Hai”, on the life of iconic poet Amrita Pritam has him challenging his own boundaries as he plays Sahir Ludhianvi as well as Imroze.

Remarking on his most memorable roles, he says, “There are some plays that are indelible. In ‘Janeman’ directed by Waman Kendre, I played the role of a eunuch. This remains the most challenging part I have played!” He also recalls Mohan Maharishi’s “Einstein” as a transformative journey, while Prasanna’s “Uttara Ram Charitam” tested his skills as an actor when he played the role of Ram in the realistic genre with Awadhi language and songs. His solo performance in “Shaayar… Shutter Down” was another challenge, “The play explored urban loneliness in a poetic way. It involved many theatrical tools like mime, dance, acting and a lot of emotional shifting through the narrative.”

As an actor he surrenders to the character, and also retrieves something from the role before exiting the persona, “These characters have given me growth — as a teacher, actor, director, and have expanded me as a human being.”

Growing up in Bhopal, Joshi was exposed to theatre at an early age. Watching the works of legendary theatre directors like BV Karanth, Bansi Kaul, Habib Tanvir, he was drawn to stage during his formative years. He acted in several plays cutting through a spectrum of genres, with directors like like Bansi Kaul , BV Karanth, Fritz Bennewitz, John Martin and Robin Das. During his days in Bhopal, he also worked with the Bharat Bhawan Repertory, Rang Vidushak (Bansi Kaul), Dost (Alok Chatterjee).

“The performing arts scenario in Bhopal was very promising when I was growing up,” he recalls. “I was already doing theatre there and the next natural step was to get deeper into the grammar of theatre at drama school.” The National School of Drama in Delhi became home turf for the artist as he completed his post-graduation with a specialisation in acting, followed by several years of working with the NSD repertory and then returning to teach there.

“After passing out from NSD, I wanted to practice whatever I had learnt, at least for 10 years. Those were the years I focused on acting and created my own module for approaching characters, building a role, working with the script, and other elements. Then my teachers asked me to teach in drama school. In a way I can say the module of teaching was built when I was practising acting.”

Around 2012, Joshi’s foray into direction began gradually. “I wanted to work with directors who would make me grow further as an artist. At this point I also had an urge to explore my own directorial style.” Penned by Tripurari Sharma, “Shifa…the healing” was a landmark for him as a director. Based around the theme of the lives of HIV positive people, the play explores the nuances of relationships, social marginalisation and emotional isolation.

Looking ahead

“When you give your time, energy, attention and passion to a medium, it responds,” believes Joshi. He points out that the main challenge for theatre in north India remains the cultivation of a culture of assimilating it into the lives of the audience. “In the Hindi-speaking world, the concept of professional theatre hasn’t become a part of culture, like in places like Maharashtra and Bengal. It needs to reach people’s calendars, so that it is a part of people’s lives to watch theatre, just as they watch television or cinema. Theatre has many possibilities, and we as theatre artists need to explore them to engage audiences.”

With a host of upcoming productions, Joshi says that acting remains his first love. “I think I find my own self more by performing different characters. My journey in theatre is about understanding human beings for who they are, freedom of expression and connection with the world.”

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 3:58:30 PM |

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