Darshan Jariwala Interview
He is re-inventing himself at 61. Arguably one of the finest actors, Darshan Jariwala lives life on his own terms. After riding a wave of success and accolades in the Indian subcontinent he is now pushing his boundaries and scouting for work in UK. Having experimented with all platforms as an actor Jariwala is a known face on stage, small screen and the big screen. Having bagged the National award for the critically acclaimed film Gandhi, My Father he has many other landmark projects to his credit. Be it funny, serious, negative he has beautifully portrayed each character that came his way. Gujarati plays like PATRA MITRO, MULRAJ MANSION, AANDHLO PAATO, CHAANAS and plays in English like BOMBAY TALKIES, GOING SOLO 2, LAUGHING WIDE, 30 DAYS IN SEPTEMBER amongst several others have placed him in the big league.

 By Jahnavi Pal

With the acting gene in him, he agrees that it was inevitable that he act, though he began professionally quite late in life. His mother Lila Jariwala was a renowned actor of her times. "The clarity that this is my core competency, that I don't want to do anything else in life, came at a very late age. I followed the conventional path that any middle class Gujarati would have. Any Gujarati would generally have a trade or business behind him but having a working set of parents, education was the only way forward. While theatre was always going on, the decision to concentrate only on acting came rather late. The affinity was always there.

"I did college plays as a teenager and my college activities were just by the way. When I was in the second year of college I did professional theatre and this continued for some time. I began in 1976. Alongside I also did children's plays for satellite TV which was a government project and directed towards children, householders and agriculturists. At that time satellite TV was not what we have now. It would beam in a village called Pij near Ahmedabad. I was doing a play called ANDROCLES AND THE LION directed by Derek Jeffreys where I played the lion. I learned a lot from this one play. I can say education in theatre started for me with this play. We would shoot in Mumbai on the terrace of a building in Grant Road with people like Ninu Majumdar and his son Udays, and Utkarsh Majumdar, and Sujata Mehta and this would be beamed in Pij. This was a very exciting phase for me as I received my cheque from the government treasury which at the age of 15 was a huge high. I opened my minor account and this was very liberating. In fact I earned from theatre and spent it on studies. But education was still on my mind and I went on to become a CA."

But the actor in him kept raising its head and one day soon realised that nothing compared to the joy of being paid for what one loves to do, and in 1998 when he was 40, he turned to becoming a professional actor. "I had done Gujarati TV in 1997 and by now I had a disastrous run in the financial sector and I realised I was not a good businessman; I could only act. I started out with serials and from 2004 onwards a lot of Hindi films. I had known of an era in Gujarati theatre where actors held regular jobs. But having a job and doing theatre I had seen my elders and their colleagues doing much the same. They performed only over the weekends. Fortunately this phenomenon of sold out shows hadn't occurred then . It was therefore manageable. I did Gujarati plays and then my tumultuous time of my business not doing well took over. I then did my first English play in 1996 called A SUITABLE BRIDE directed by Naushil Mehta. It was a very challenging play because I did six roles. The greatest high any actor can have is to do such a role. Of course, I had done many good Gujarati plays but In English this was my first big role. From 1998 onwards I switched off from all other activities and concentrating only on acting.

"I can say the turning point in my life came in 1983, with CHAANAS which was directed by Ketan Mehta. This was an adaptation of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and also had Paresh Rawal, Sunila Pradhan in the main roles. I played the intellectual mad man and because of Ketan we had the cream of talent in this play. The other turning point is MULRAJ MANSION (1989) which was produced and directed by Paresh Rawal. This remains my best on Gujarati theatre. But I consider my performance of the saint poet Narsi Mehta as a watershed on TV and my role in Gandhi, My Father a watershed on the big screen. These challenged me as an actor and gave me great creative satisfaction as well."

Jariwala rates AANDHLO PATO, 7X3= 21 ( a collection of monologues) and PATRA MITRO (the Gujarati adaptation of LOVE LETTERS) as a delightful outing. "I am a monologue specialist and in English I have done plays that are essentially monologues like LAUGHING WIDE, CONDITIONS APPLY, GOING SOLO 2 and BOMBAY TALKIES. All these were very appreciated."

When quizzed about his special performances the actor says every performance is unique. "It's very easy to slip into your comfort zone by repeating yourself. I therefore always try and think what new I will do with my character today and how this will change the dynamics of the play. So each time you speak your lines you have to speak as if you are saying them for the first time. You should also respond to your co-actors as if you are listening to their lines too for the first time. And this is the truth of the play. Each time I go up on stage and the curtain goes up is the most interesting thing for me."

Jariwala goes on to draw a parallel between his craft and meditation. "Many people may not agree but acting allows you to do what people the world over are doing-- meditate. When the actor drops his self and watches the character he is playing he is in a state of bliss. I think bad actors are those actors who are not willing to forget who they are."

The actor is very upfront as he says that if he given a good role in a film versus a good play he would opt for the film. "I would choose a film and my reasons are different. Films happened very late for me. In fact I was always approached for films and never had to run after work. Yes, I have made some bad choices but by and large i have done good films. I am yet a learner in films and it is for this reason that I would accept a film over a play. Unless the play is very challenging it wouldn't tempt me. I can deepen the understanding of my craft by signing good films. I still consider myself on a learning curve and it allows me to remain a student."

Commenting on the current scenario in Gujarati theatre he is brutally honest. "News from the Gujarati stage is not all that good because creatively we are not really quite right up there. Most of our audiences do not have the time or inclination to treat this as a medium that would stimulate their minds and intellect. Most of them want only artificially manufactured genre called family comedies. You have a family and this family only tells you jokes. And those who are so-called wholesale purchasers of this genre like social groups buy only this. You pay to be amused not entertained. Our producers too live in their la-la land and blame it all on audiences. Gujarati theatre is without substance and now Covid has pushed out theatres into oblivion. Moreover old timers should make way for fresh blood. It's not as if Gujarati theatre never had good content. If we have to get back old audiences we need to make a lot many changes. There is no originality now and everything is so mediocre. I recall doing a play called GARV THI KAHO HAME GUJARATI CHHE with Smriti Irani where we played a couple who wants to give back to the language.

"There are no horror plays, thrillers, murder mysteries or good drama. We only have what I call buddhi ke baal! Just a pinch of sugar and a play is churned out. It's mass driven. It's time we nudged people out of this complacency."

Jariwala says he is a huge fan of Vikram Gokhale and has even done a play called JAYSRIKRISHNA DARLING adapted from a Marathi film Anumati which had him in the lead. "I would accept anything that Gokhale has done even without asking for any details. I have done EK SELFIE SAJODE adapted from a Marathi play called YEH DIL ABHI BHARA NAHIN. This was just about it. But now I have decided that i will no longer be satisfied. I have decided that I will not take the line that what more can I expect from them. They are trying their best. I have therefore not done any Gujarati plays after 2016.

"In 2017-18 I did SALAAM NONI AAPA with Lillete Dubey. Its not a very ambitious play in terms of what one wants to do, but she and me go a long way back when I did the best English play in my career, 30 DAYS IN SEPTEMBER. So when she was stuck as the actor dropped out at the last minute I stepped in. I did it because I had good co-actors like Lillete herself, Jayati Bhatia, Rishi Khurana. Though I have done some good English plays I would abhor doing Broadway spin-offs in India as that's not our culture or our theatre. If the content is Indian I would resonate with that. Why do a KING LEAR or MACBETH when I would rather do a KING LEAR in Marathi or a HAYVADAN in English.

"What I am grateful is that so much work has been offered to me which allowed me to test my versatility. I have been lucky that I have never had to go through struggle early in my career. But now at 61, I can hear the distant river of mortality. So each moment is precious. I do not want to commit myself to any activity that will not give me happiness. So just about three years ago I went to UK and hired an agent to get me work. I started giving auditions and began facing rejection. For a pompous a** like me this is a great lesson in humility."

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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