Jay Upadhyay Interview
A name that theatre enthusiasts respect and a face that film and OTT watchers recognise, Jay Upadhyay is a storehouse of talent. Having had an impressive run on stage Jay is recognised for his work in plays like MAREEZ, MASTER BUILDER, MUMMY TU AAVI KEVI, MASTER MADAM, SIDDHAHEM, APOORVA AVSAR and his current offering KAAGDO. His portrayal of Pranav Seth in the super successful web series, Scam 1992 has earned him due recognition.

 By Jahnavi Pal

An integral part of Manoj Shah's theatre group, Ideas Unlimited, Jay is an actor who loves theatre and breathes, feels and lives for it.

It's not a new play but it's going to be a new experience for me as I will be performing after two years. This play is based on a short story in Gujarati called Anandi Kaagdo. The philosophy of this story is what the play is all about. I am playing the central character where he embodies the philosophy of that story. There is a very interesting case against him in the second half which wraps up the essence of the play. There are only two characters in the play, Unnati Gala and me.

On his journey:
Yes, I always wanted to be an actor. Right from school and college days I was keen on acting. I was part of the Boy Scouts where we would go for camps and most of the boys would do something or the other. I did a play and got appreciated for the first time in my life. I felt I was good at something and should continue on that path. In college I got some opportunities and even won a few prizes. Immediately after college I did a commercial play called MANJULA MARFATIA with Ketaki Dave which unfortunately didn't do well, so I went back to the drawing board. My father said I should do some job as well so I did a call centre job for five years but as the night shifts affected my health I quit. I then sold cars for Honda and also got married.

I then got a play called KANJI VIRUDDH KANJI in 2009. I did 375 shows in three years! After this play I took off. The ease of being on stage was given to me when I did this play.

On the turning point in his life:
When I started doing plays with Manoj Shah in 2004--his plays are the kind that give you the liberty to do a job well. We mainly perform in Prithvi theatre or NCPA. This is how I kept the art in me alive. In his plays one has to give great value for money as we have to do at least three roles in each play, which is a good exercise. I got KANJI VIRUDDH KANJI as they saw me in MAREEZ where I play three different roles. MAREEZ was a major turning point and I was a replacement as the actor had quit and gone mainstream. I just grabbed it. I was playing three diverse roles in this play, one of a Muslim Subedar, one of a Rajput and then a Jain monk. This is the range he throws at you. Moreover since his plays are staged at theatres like Prithvi where people pay to watch an actor perform. It's not a place where people come to network, or have charity shows. I watched actors like Dharmedra Gohil from backstage and learnt a lot. After my father it's Manoj Shah who helped me get to where I am right now.

On his preference for experimental theatre:
I have no qualms in admitting that I prefer experimental plays over commercial plays. I have been a part of both. As I have been through that grind so I can say with conviction that I choose good plays over bad plays. I agree that there are good commercial plays also but I believe that you will not be practicing your craft and you will not be challenged enough in a commercial play because Gujarati theatre has a set pattern. One has to make people laugh in Gujarati theatre or else people will not buy tickets. Each language has different tastes and in Gujarati theatre if you have to succeed it has to be done with humour.
Where experimental theatre also helped me is when I faced the camera. A few of my friends who have only been doing commercial theatre are very awkward when facing the camera. In a theatre like Prithvi where audiences are sitting right under your nose you have to be true and this is what the camera requires also. So this transition was not difficult for me.

Manoj Shah's plays are akin to doing Ram Leela kind of plays as we perform in all kinds of venues, even in makeshift tents. This experience has taught me so much as an actor.

On trained v/s untrained actors:
The only thing that I would have learnt more is about Shakespeare and Premchand as Manoj Shah doesn't touch plays by them. I know Beckett and Ibsen now. In fact I did THE MASTER BUILDER for the Government of Norway which was a super experience for me. They wanted to popularise Norwegian theatre in India and I got to play the central character in that play. I have now started believing what Manoj Shah believes that there is theatre beyond Shakespeare. There is an obscene amount of unexplored theatre. If you are an untrained actor you have to be a very curious actor. If you are not curious you better go for training. One has to have the power of observation if you are untrained. But training puts you in a mould which art is not all about. One should create their own mould.

On his landmark plays:
Most of Manoj Shah's plays have been milestones in my life. A play called MUMMY TU AAVI KEVI was one that I enjoyed thoroughly as in the first half I play a polished character and in the second half I play a character that speaks the local dialect of the place of my origin, Mehsana.

MASTER BUILDER was another play of which I feel there should have been more shows as it has great potential for me as an actor. The other play that comes to mind is JAL JAL MARE PATANG which is adapted from the personal diary of a noted Gujarati writer. We still do these shows as most Manoj Shah's plays outlast even the actors as he does several shows.

On making a choice between theatre and film:
If I was offered a good role in a film, I would do it, as Manoj Shah is very understanding (laughs)! But theatre is like home. I will never sacrifice it. I will go anywhere but will always come home. Actors like Paresh Rawal and Naseeruddin have been doing it and this is what I want to emulate. Audience in the theatre is always different and I crave that response. The thrill of being on your own for two hours, challenging your memory without fumbling even once is the joy that only theatre offers. Films and TV are like driving an auto pilot car, on cruise control.

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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