Interview
 
Dalip Sondhi
Dalip Sondhi is Director of SDDS Education. He has been involved with training actors for over twenty years first in the UK and now in Australia. In collaboration with the Victorian College of Arts, University of Melbourne, and other well-known Indian actors and directors such as Naseeruddin Shah and more recently, Neeraj Kabi, Dalip Sondhi's SDDS Education has been offering training programmes in Mumbai. We speak to Dalip Sondhi to find out more about the kind of training that his company offers and of how that training might possibly help Indian actors working in theatre as well as in film.


 By Deepa Punjani

Dalip SondhiDeepa Punjani (DP): Of late, you have been conducting workshops in Mumbai with other collaborators. What brought you to Mumbai?

Dalip Sondhi (DS): You know, I'd have to say it was a result of one conversation. I was on one of my regular family visits to India a few years ago, when a good and a close friend, who's been involved as an actor in Indian cinema for nearly 40 years, suggested I bring my training methodology to India and run workshops. From there the idea spiralled.

I have always believed in thorough research. Through numerous conversations with current high profile Indian actors, directors, writer and producers, I learnt about how relatively sparse the actor training sector in India is, certainly when you compare it to the UK and to Australia which have an incredibly high volume of drama schools. That's not to say there aren't great acting courses in India but essentially there's only one main 3-year programme that warrants any comparison, which is being offered by the National School of Drama (NSD).

I learnt a great deal very quickly and my understanding came from those actually working in the professional industry. They all reported the same thing to me, that there was a need, more than ever for intensive, clear and properly constructed training. Especially so as India is heading into so many more international film and theatre collaborations and the actors it is producing, need to be able to work across these new multi-platforms. India has an extraordinary wealth of talent especially in its writers, directors and actors.

Based on this research I formed SDDS Education at the end of 2012 with the specific purpose to develop a valid, systematic and collaborative training relevant to the 21st century demands for the new generation of Indian actors. This is what was crucially important to me - that it was collaborative. It was built out of a series of ongoing conversations between Australian professionals and their Indian counterparts. Otherwise there's no substance to it. We want to develop from the ground up rather than have international tutors simply coming to India and "doing their thing". There's a lot of that already.

The University of Melbourne's Victorian College of the Arts agreed to come on board which was tremendously exciting as they offer such a strong tradition of high level Australian and international training and are hugely respected in Australia by the professional industry.

So we were set and had a huge launch with significant press attention in March last year conducting our first workshops in June and recently in November. The Indian actors and directors we've worked with were hugely passionate about coming on board with us and the experience has been deeply enriching. So it looks like we are set to construct and create a vibrant, new, authentic, collaborative and most importantly, relevant training system for Indian actors.

What kind of training can the participants expect from your programmes?

We are currently offering two programmes:

1. Our Acting Diagnostic - This is a 3-hour intensive practical workshop.
2. Our Acting Intensives - These are our full 12-day programs that we've already delivered in June and November/December 2013.

First and foremost our workshops are entirely practical with participants constantly working on the floor. Acting is a physical craft understood through the body. So our focus begins on the essential component of the actor's voice and then translating this through the acting work into a physical embodiment of 'action' (the all essential doing). We engage a sense of the character that is deeply personal for the actor. There'll be a lot of one on one work - we will be consistently diagnosing the individual through their work to avoid a 'standardised' approach.

We do not believe in the concept that the character is someone 'other' than you - rather it is you in a different time, space, set of circumstances and relationships. Therefore, the work is about 'personalizing everything' or 'bringing everything to yourself'.

Participants can expect the environment to be set up as highly disciplined but vitally in a way that allows them to feel free to take risks - and for their ideas to fail. We know that without this they will never find their true creative excellence as actors. We offer clear, practical and systematic processes which allow the individual to discover their own unique process towards reaching authentic and transparent characterisation that is highly desired across both film and theatre.

They will work on text - both from film and theatre and learn how to break it down into clear components and physically embody these. There will be no conceptualising and each part of our exercises will be carefully 'physically' understood before moving on. We will constantly translate the work from theatre into film and vice-versa. This ensures that the work is made relevant and the process can be taken away by the individual and applied across all mediums. So they will work with the camera as well as in an open space.

Our 6 core components are:
  • The Creative Imagination
  • Impulse
  • Action
  • Emotion
  • Objective
  • Motivation
DP: Is there any specific model or school of acting that you follow?

DS: No - and I feel it is always dangerous to attest to one train of thought on acting. The core of the work is centred on the actor's imagination and their ability to translate their impulse into clear physical action. I have carefully developed the work as a result of my working through core western actor training systems that are now being explored and developed through the essential collaborations with Indian professionals. Sure, I have named the process ''The SDDS Actor Training System'' (SATS) and given 6 core elements - but these are more of a vital structure that enable and allow the actor to experiment within. They will systematically work through the application of our very clear exercises and, as a result, discover a vital and personal process that works best for them as a uniquely creative individual.

Too many courses say they are Stanislavsky, Grotowski, Chekhov, Meisner- based and so on...and I used to do this. But now for me, this is utter rubbish. None of these practitioners ever stated they had a fixed and complete ''system'' or ''method" - it was others that wanted to define what they did. That's the modernist way-to place ideas in a box and give them a label.

These incredible practitioners were always on a journey of exploration and discovery and I have no doubt if they were still working today, they would have changed their ideas significantly. So anyone who simply subscribes to them in the 21st century, are not making their work relevant. Sure, we borrow from all these predominant schools of thought but what we do does not belong to any one. That means that as we continue to work and develop through engagement with India, our work will change - it has to - constantly. So when you talk to me in a year I should be able to report significant shifts as a response to this year's learning.

DP: Who have been your role models?

DS: I've been deeply influenced by the work of Indian directors such as Mira Nair, Shekhar Kapur, Deepa Mehta - who have all made extraordinary work internationally. As you know I have been working with some of India's established actors and directors and am learning much from them currently.

The work of US directors such as Elia Kazan and Martin Scorcesse has had a lasting effect as has my training time in America. Kazan's films- On the Waterfront, East of Eden and A Streetcar Named Desire are phenomenal. The British theatre, and now film director Sam Mendes is outstanding - the way he shifted from theatre to film demonstrates just what a well established theatre director can immediately do in cinema - the films American Beauty and Revolutionary Road are sublime works. I have learned much from British theatre director Katie Mitchell. The British director Peter Brook was a huge influence when I was training myself. His texts are a must read for any aspiring actor. I had the pleasure of working with Vladimir Ananyev, a Russian director and that was an unforgettable experience in terms of my learning as an actor-trainer.

So these are just some of the influences/role models.

DP: While a given workshop may be helpful to a participant, it's equally important for the participant to take the experience further. How do you ensure that your participants are able to carry forward their learning, especially in a scenario where theatre is not funded, and where television and Bollywood aspirants need the proverbial 'break' more than their skills?

DS: Hopefully I've answered the first part of this question already. Our entire training philosophy is based on the premise that individuals are able to take away a clear process that is their own to apply and develop. This is opposed to simply giving them a series of 'experiences' or 'ideas' that are not immediately relevant. We want them to be able to apply their learning immediately and for it to evolve from there. After all - their success is a measure of how effective our training is. They have already reported what significant difference the work made to their auditions, so the work yields immediate results.

Also, the scenario you give isn't one unique to India. Even Australian and UK actors need the proverbial 'break' - However, they will get noticed, and be more noticeable, as a result of our training - so even if working in theatre which isn't particularly well funded in Australia - they are engaging in their process as actors and vitally developing and honing their skills. They can be visible here and acting societies are relatively small communities, so word travels fast. We want to empower them to make things happen and not to sit around waiting.

Further more, through our connections and networks they could find themselves quickly involved in international projects. Just look at the wonderful work of directors such as Mira Nair. People talk - and if you deliver excellence in performance, you'll be picked up.

On a more practical level, in our main 12-day programs we are consistently going to be working with top Indian directors and producers to come and see our students work at various points. They will also provide feedback. This is what we call a 'showcase' and we intend to develop this so that we expose the great work that our students do to those that need to see it and to those that can give them work. We will also be translating the work of the participants onto film giving them a show-reel and something to use in the marketing of themselves. We intend to consistently link the work to the professional industry. So we understand the way the current system works in India but we also understand that it's evolving and we want to be at the forefront of that.

*Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.







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