Ajeet Singh Palawat Interview
Ajeet Singh Palawat is an actor, co-founder of Ujagaar that produces theatre productions. He has studied at the National School of Drama (NSD), and continues to work in the theatre regularly, along with films and OTT shows

 By Tarun Agarwal

What is the journey of HUNKARO? How was it conceived?

Before the pandemic we were actively pursuing theatre and performance and it had become part of our routine. As the pandemic dragged on, my wife and co-founder of Ujagaar, Isphita, became very restless, and wanted to go back to the stage and live audiences. Five years ago, our director Mohit Takalkar had visited Japan and his eyes had opened to doing fresh experiments in theatre. During the pandemic, I remembered his idea and told him we should try something new. We felt that we should create a play that should reflect the change in our life, relations, career due to the pandemic. We asked our group to see who amongst them wanted to write something. One day, Mohit Takalkar took us all for a three-day residency. At the end of it, we had carved out the idea of HUNKARO which is not a regular drama.

Many people want to know how they can break into the theatre, films, or television. You got into it through the National School of Drama (NSD). How much did it help to be in NSD?

I have come to realize why it is considered as one of the mother institutes. It has nurtured me through the years. It taught us to ask questions and seek answers. We got to spend quality time with stalwarts who would come to share their experiences. We learnt from fellow students and had healthy creative fights. Even now when I am working on my plays, the lessons I was taught spring to my mind.

How does your family look at your choice of career? You are from Rajasthan, which unlike Mumbai or Delhi does not have much of a theatre culture?

This is a very important aspect of my life. I come from an orthodox society. But my mother sings bhajans well. I used to feel great when our performance in school was appreciated. But street plays and theatre were not expected of us, so I did it stealthily. When it was found out that I did street plays, people around me taunted us. But my family had some interest in the arts so that helped. I was selected for a workshop in NSD and my grandfather proudly displayed the letter to everyone. Suddenly, the media in Rajasthan was writing about me and local journalists wanted to interview me. This changed the outlook of people around me. However, the year I did the workshop I didn’t get into NSD. I faced a lot of roasting for it. When I got in later, I took my parents to the NSD campus and they felt good about what I was doing. In fact, over the years, I have been able to nurture my group Ujaagar only because of my parents and brother. They have fully embraced my way of life now.

Film, television, business are all cited for being driven by recommendations, contacts, and nepotism. Theatre was supposed to be different. But, as we see around, who you know and how you know them, seems to be ingrained in theatre too. Do you think there is a lot of nepotism in theatre?

Nepotism has been there forever. It is nothing but a tradition that is going from one generation to another. But yes what I believe is, it is not possible in the field of art, always. Any art form requires talent, skill and craft that is needed to be practiced. And not only passing a test.
In Mumbai there must be 500 theatre groups but only 10-12 groups are such that they have the platform to be noticed by the public. However, real success comes only through dedication. Naseeruddin Shah is an inspiration for those who believe in hard work.

You are also active in film and web series? Would you make more money if you completely stopped doing theatre or do you think being in theatre drives your film career?

To do theatre I have to make money. Cinema and web series pay me a lot no doubt. Many of my colleagues have made a choice to give up theatre altogether and focus on films. However, I believe that theatre lets me be an actor at all times. I get to practice my craft all the time. I am committed to theatre and will not leave it. Also, it is not a healthy attitude to just wait for a role in films and meanwhile, not polish your acting.

Anything you want to wrap with?

I remember where I came from – my values and training at NSD played a role in what I am today. I think I was lucky that I met and got associated with the right people at the right time. Many who are more talented and better performers than me have got a lot less in life. I value Mohit's mentorship. Theatre helps me to raise questions and contribute to the political discourse. I also thank my wife for being a friend and critic through all of this.

*Tarun Agarwal* is the author of Hope Factory: Business Ideas For Everyone, and has directed a short film, Honesty Weds Dishonesty

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