Interview
 
Dr. Ashok Ranade
Dr. Ashok Ranade is a trained Hindustani classical singer and academic. Besides teaching Hindustani classical music, he also conducts workshops for all those who become aware of the power that the vocal chords are capable of. His students vary from being actors to newsreaders, announcers and corporate professionals. Many Indian actors- aspiring, young and the established have learnt much from him. Some persistent and dedicated ones I am sure can claim to have ‘found their voice’ training with him! Dr. Ranade has also been instrumental in overseeing sunstantial research in the field of theatre as chief coordinator of the Theatre Development Project (TDC) that was completed under the aegis of the National Centre of the Performing Arts (N.C.P.A.). In his tenure there, he built a strong archival base for resources in Ethnomusicology, a discipline that he feels strongly for. He has received many awards and has also been a visiting faculty to institutions in India as well as abroad. The following conversation ranges from the essence of voice and speech in theatre to the significance of a discipline like Ethnomusicology.

 

Dr. Ranade, you have talked and written extensively about the importance of voice and speech training in India. I believe you have also conducted several workshops to train actors and concerned theatre people. Do you think that today theatre training institutes and individual actors are more aware of the importance of speech and training as against earlier times?
On the surface of it the syllabi of theatre schools and institutes acknowledge the importance of voice and speech training. But nobody takes it up as an ongoing and an important part of the actor’s training. That is the tragedy of Indian education as a whole. The material used for training is often outdated, there is a severe lack of archival material and theatre is reduced to need-based assignments. For instance, students study Shakespeare’s HAMLET only when asked to. Classics have such an important role to play but sadly very few seem to be reading them.

Any training by definition requires regular riyaaz and commitment. Can you talk of actors who in your opinion have been able to use words effectively in a play and who have on a sustained basis practiced their speech?
You know I read Lawrence Olivier’s biography. Actors like him reserve at least a month in a year to return back to studios to polish their art. Our actors just do not have the will to do so. Reasons ranging from the shortage of time to “being present” when assignments arise are often given. Perhaps it is indeed difficult for our actors to sustain themselves in this system. I don’t know…But one needs to remember that self-training is just as essential as eating, drinking, breathing! We all have a biological cycle. Self-study should become a part of that cycle. Actors like Bhakti Barve and Dilip Prabhavalkar have been able to achieve this. I am sure there are others too; I have the case study forms of many of my students but I don’t recall others now.

In your article on voice and speech training that appeared in the 1987 issue of ‘Facts and News’, you say that voice and speech in theatre have not been studied scientifically in India. In essence, you therefore seem to be saying that voice and speech in the theatre follow a science of sorts. Can you elaborate on this further?
I believe that voice can be, and should be, cultivated or ‘cultured’- mainly because nothing can be as good as your own voice can be. It is voice that bears a stamp of your personality in a unique manner, and it can be studied and developed in two ways- through speech and singing. No study of voice in my opinion can afford to ignore the rhythms we ascribe to music. In the course of my own training and academic experience, I realized that a proper study of voice must consider both speech and singing together. The theatre makes demands for a certain kind of speech. This speech revolves around pitch, volume and timbre. These are the important parameters to consider when learning and analyzing theatre speech. These parameters can be traced back to findings in anatomy, physiology, psychology, different branches in acoustics, and yoga. My own approach towards training is based on these findings.

Do you regularly hold workshops on voice and speech training? What is the average duration of your workshops?
Yes I do regularly hold workshops but the content of my workshops is modified to meet the requirements of the participant/s. And therefore the time duration can vary. As I have mentioned earlier, training programs in voice must consider aspects of both speech and singing. The workshops I conduct help in answering the following questions: What is defective voice/speech? What are the main causes of vocal/speech defects? What can be done to bring about improvement? How to stabilize these improvements? In other words, my workshops turn the most frequently asked questions into most frequently answered questions! To this end, each session in a workshop consists of three sections. The first discusses some scientific and theoretical issues, the second recommends and teaches specific voice/speech exercises and the third prescribes certain self-study procedures. The emphasis is not on lecturing but on actual working together with participants.

Has it been possible for committed participants of your workshop to follow-up on their own what has been taught to them?
To bring about lasting improvement in voice, speech and singing, self-study for a period of two years is necessary. Yes, some of my participants keep in touch with me and I too learn about their progress when I see them using their voices well. Some participants may not at a point in time in the workshop get to the depth of certain issues but they do call me up when they encounter those problems in their professional lives. The encountered problem then seems to make sense of the solution that was presented during the workshop!

Not being proficient in a language has a direct implication on the way it is spoken. Does your training in any way help an actor overcome this barrier?
Not completely but yes I am able to help my participants improve upon their language. Language is best communicated when it is not only clear but also precise in its purpose. To that extent, I help my participants understand the qualitative difference between words. For instance, which word would work best in a given context? There are multiple words available for expression and hence I give my participants examples and ask them to choose the best or lets say the better word.

Besides training students for effective delivery of speech and for enabling them to use their voice to the optimum, you are also a theatre rasik. Which has been the most memorable play that you have seen till date and why?
Now that is a difficult question. And to tell you the truth, I haven’t seen a play in a long time. Besides it would be unfair of me to answer this question anyway. Plays are dependent on so many external conditions like space, audience, surrounding and so on. But I do remember a G.P. Deshpande play that I thought was very good and some plays that I saw as part of the Chabildas movement.

You have also directed music for a Marathi play and for which you won a Best music director’s award. Are you designing music for any play currently?
Not for any play at the moment but I have recently composed music for a film titled ‘Ahilyabai Holkar’ which is being directed by Nachiket and Jayoo Patwardhan. I am truly fascinated by the integration of music with other art forms. So if a good opportunity presents itself, I am most willing to design music and see what happens to it in the orbit of that art form.

What was your experience like when you co-ordinated the ‘Theatre Development Centre’ project at the N.C.P.A.?
We did good work but unfortunately the project was called off although the Ford Foundation was willing to continue its funding. It is a sad state of affairs. In India, individuals do well but institutions suffer.

Do you think anybody and everybody can hope to work wonders with their voice if they are willing to try and practice hard?
Yes I do believe so unless of course there is a handicap. Voice and speech can indeed be used to the optimum for the most basic of requirements such as interpersonal communication. Silence itself has a sound. In the literature on Indian theatre, Satvik (expressions and no speech) abhinaya is the most important. Vachik (speech), Angik (gestures) and Ahariya (property) come later. And indeed a state of Satvik Abhinaya is the most difficult to attain. But then silence is best understood when it is flanked by sound just as a sky would not appear to be as interesting without the stars in it.

You are a keen advocate of the discipline of Ethnomusicology. In fact, a lot of archival work was done by you in this field at the N.C.P.A. Can you tell us something about this discipline and its status in India?
In earlier times, Ethnomusicology suffered from an elitist point of view. Its framework was determined by westerners wanting to study non-western forms of music. This is the case no longer. Today Ethnomusicology encompasses the study of world music in relation to the culture from which it springs. Ethnomusicology as a discipline would be of great value to society, as it understands music as an entity belonging to a certain culture. Music I believe is a great indicator of a society’s mores and the times its people are living in.

This is interesting. Can you give an example to support your thesis?
There are many examples but an interesting one would be to consider the sixties in India when ‘Rock and Roll’ arrived. I remember reading news of how the youth in Mumbai broke seats in theatres like Regal and Eros because of their frenzied dancing. The music simply denoted a need for the urban youth to come together to make their presence felt. Think about mobile phone tunes or motor horns that are tuned to the religious strains of devotional songs like “Om Jai Jagdish…” Does not that tell you something? As usual, this discipline is virtually unknown to Indian students. I have tried to convince educationists to initiate this discipline but to no avail. Those wanting to study it have to go abroad.

As someone who has been an integral part of the theatre and its process, what would be your advice to aspiring young actors?
While an ongoing self-study is of paramount importance, young people must absolutely love what they are doing. It is only then that they can hope to do better.





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