J. Brandon Hill is an America-born actor who has lived in India for more than a decade and has acted in more than 20 major Bollywood films.. He is now directing and acting in Shakespeare's play, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, for Ank Theatre Group.

 By Tarun Agarwal

Now it is common for people from the western countries to do a stint in India but you came to India almost a couple of decades ago, when it was not common at all. What brought you to India?

I came to India because I wanted to come to India. I did not really come to pursue an acting career. I was an actor back in the third world country (laughs/America) where I used to live before, so that is what I did when I got here. In India, acting meant leaning more towards films. Back in New York, it is a theatre town. If you want to do films, you have to go to California and I really did not want to go to California.

Now that you are doing a play, how different is theatre from films?
Theatre is a lot different from films. Theatre is an actor's medium. In a film you don't get the whole picture about the film. You don't know what the character will be afterwards. You don't know what the film is. You don't know where it is going to play. In theatre, you do rehearsals. As an actor, you know the whole play. Also, the great thing about theatre is that you rehearse. So you get to mould things, try things, sculpt things. You are more in control as an actor.

What brought you back to theatre?
Theatre is like coming home. I never did films back in the old country (USA). I will be going to films after this play. I am quite surprised at myself for doing theatre. It was Preeta Mathur and Ank Theatre Group that got me to do theatre.

Why Shakespeare? Why MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING as a choice for the play?
First of all, Shakespeare is not literature. It is supposed to be watched. It is a play. It can be boring as hell to read it. Every romantic comedy in the last 500 years has followed pretty much the structure of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. It was very courageous of Preeta Mathur to pick up an English play and to start off with a Shakespearen play. The group has only done Hindi plays so far in their near 50 years of existence. Before the pandemic, we had decided to do MACBETH. Now, for various reasons, to bring cheer to the audience, we chose a comedy.

Do you think an actor who does cinema should do theatre sometimes?
Well, it depends. If an actor has only done films, he may be exposed for his limited acting skills. For example, Julia Roberts did a Broadway show. Her performance stinks in it. It closed after a while because she was exposed. Theatre acting is much more different. It is a marathon. You have to do the whole play, you have to memorise the whole play, you have to know the whole play. Whereas, in films and television, you are just doing a series of short sprints. Theatre tests an actor's abilities, stamina, voice projection and more. If you are going to come to the theatre, you have to come prepared.

(Tarun Agarwal is the author of a book, Hope Factory. He is the director a short film, Honesty Weds Dishonesty. )

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