Arvind Gaur Interview
Arvind Gaur is one of the most celebrated theatre personalities in India. Asmita Theatre Group, which he runs, is a regular source of trained actors in films. Theatre is also his medium through which he participates in social, economic and political movements. Excerpts from an interview.

 By Tarun Agarwal

You could have migrated to movies, television, digital entertainment, politics, and got the best opportunities. Why did you continue to stick to theatre?

I have experience in different walks of life - journalism, engineering, television, tuition classes, street plays. I realized that there were few places where one can provide an independent view on social, economic and political issues. I was also keen to create a place for newcomers who were being sidelined by the established players. Thus, with the intent to give everyone a chance, I formally started Asmita Theatre Group. Anyone who gets an opportunity is talented. No one can really judge talent, so we made this rule that no one will be rejected. We kept Asmita away from the system because I realized that the system provides you a lot but expects you to be a courtier, a follower. To remain independent, we chose not to take any financial assistance from the government and went on to create a self-sustaining system based on the patronage of our audience. We continue to raise social and political issues through our plays.

You started Asmita Theatre in 1993. What play or incident brought you to national attention?

The world of art moves slowly and I never pursued fame. As I worked, we connected with people because our work was linked to contemporary issues. I did a play, TUGHLAQ. It was a very challenging play to do as many noted directors had already done great plays on the subject. However, our play became successful and got recognized as the best play of the time. The tickets were sold in black. This play got us noticed nationally. We also got involved in various movements while remaining independent of political parties. This also got us noticed. Since we did not agree to fall into the propaganda of any political party and chose to purely pursue people's causes, we faced very stiff resistance. This stiff opposition we faced due to our neutrality also cemented our identity.

How long a training period does it take for an actor to be employable professionally in films or television?

There are various aspects of theatre that an actor needs to learn. He needs to use his body, brains and senses to acquire the required skills. Any actor who is working continuously on his craft for 2-3 years, can expect to find work nowadays. There are opportunities in theatre itself as we find engagements with colleges and corporate houses too. This is aside from the opportunities that exist in films, television etc.

A problem actors face is that after initial years of getting work, there is a lull period. How do you think they can overcome a gap in their career?

An actor should continue to practice his craft all the time. One should keep exploring the craft continuously and not get limited to working on it only when there is work. Manoj Bajpayee, Deepak Dobriyal, Irfan are some actors who have continued to hone their craft and it shows in their output.

How many students must have passed out of Asmita from 1993 to now?

It is a difficult question to answer because we also engage with colleges and schools and conduct both short-term workshops and regular courses. Let us say, we must have trained 3000-4000 students so far. About 250-300 people train with us every year. We try our best to ensure that people who learn with us are able to fulfill their dreams.

Are there any cases of theatre impacting the national narrative?

There are many of our success stories. We struggled for some issues through our plays and in the end succeeded in our efforts. Initially, we worked for factory labourers and helped them fix their problems by creating a dialogue between owners and labourers. There were many issues we helped resolve such as ration, accident at work, not being paid etc. We followed the same approach to address student and farmer issues. We did advocacy to fight for the rights of domestic workers and were able to get our demands met in 2-3 years. We also did a movement to start libraries in every lane in Bihar and it became a parliamentary debate, and the Manmohan Singh government established a library mission. We also played a key role in India Against Corruption. We left the movement when political ambitions became apparent. We also worked to make the Nirbhaya movement remain non-violent and held a dialogue with the then president of India on women's rights.

There are so many new theatre groups that have started. Can they get government grants?

Government grants can be obtained by following their policies. A group that has been active for 2-3 years is eligible and can apply for it. I try to make theatre self-sufficient and not dependent on the government. Government should try to make infrastructure better so that we can get good quality venues within budget. My advice to the youngsters who are entering theatre productions is that it is possible to be economically self-sufficient and there is no need to depend upon the government.

Any last points you would like to say?

The resources dedicated to theatre need to be decentralized. We need to have regional institutions and not just one at the national level such as the National School of Drama (NSD).

We try to foster in our actors the responsibility that what we are preaching in our plays should also be practised by us. For example, we did plays on the environment and also worked to plant trees. I ask our theatre professionals to be responsible citizens and not just focus on entertainment, applause and money.

(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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