Lalit Parimoo Interview
He left the comfort of his home in beautiful Kashmir to chase his dreams of becoming an actor. Lalit Parimoo made his way to Delhi as he was always inclined towards theatre. For six years he learnt the basics of acting with several theatre directors and simultaneously began his career on stage. He was only 18. He soon began professional theatre in the capital and there was no looking back.

 By Parul Rana

He made his debut on stage with the play, THE EXPANSION AND THE RULE. Many landmark plays followed and Parimoo became a known face on stage. MITA KI KAHAANI, MAHABHOJ, AGNIGARBH (based on a novel by Mahashweta Devi), KABHI NA CHHODEN KHET, SHRI SHRI GANESH, TARTUFFE, IPHAGENIA IN AULIS, SHWEYK IN WORLD WAR 2, THE GLASS MENAGERIE were some of best offerings on stage.

On TV he has been recognised for his role in Shaktimaan, Maila Aanchal, Kangan and work in films like Haider, Mubarakan gave him great joy.

When television began to make its presence felt he shifted his attention to the new emerging medium and now Parimoo has over 100 TV shows and films to his credit. In 1992 he shifted base to Mumbai and conceptualised Abhinay Yog where they teach acting and yoga techniques. He is also the founder of a theatre group called Natsamaj where the main focus is to train actors and create social awareness amongst viewers. He has also authored a book titled Main Manushya Hun.

Parimoo takes a walk down memory lane as he recalls his theatre days in Delhi and Mumbai and also takes a bird's eye view of what ails theatre today.

"Yes, after my tenth standard I developed a keen interest in films and wanted to become an actor. I am from Kashmir and we didn't have many opportunities there to pursue acting. In those days all one wanted to become was a doctor or engineer. By eleventh standard I would watch a lot of films and most of the films were that of Mr Amitabh Bachchan. I too wanted to be the same. I began to read books on how to be an actor and I understood that in order to be an actor I must first learn the basics of being an actor. I explored the idea of doing theatre in Kashmir but there were no Hindi speaking theatre groups and hence I decided to shift to Delhi. After completing my twelfth I joined college in Delhi to do my graduation as well as learn acting.

"I did my first one act play title UPAR SE NICHE in college. Then one of my seniors introduced me to the professional world of drama that had directors from National School of Drama, Delhi Theatre group, Shriram Centre, Mandi House. By 1983 I was regularly acting with different directors Rohin Das, Amitav Dasgupta, Rajendra Nath, Rajendra Gupta, Shekhar Vaishnavi and others. I was a freelance actor for many years and slowly started studying theatre. I didn't take admission in NSD as I was keen to earn money very quickly and get into TV and films. The other thing that pulled me back from joining an acting school was that aspects like set designing and other stage craft didn't excite at that point as I was very young and a beginner. I was only focused to acting. This gave me the understanding that theatre is a huge world and not just a stepping stone to films. I was already exposed to Shakespeare, Brecht, Greek, Russian drama, Modern drama, Sanskrit drama and I could learn all of it by even going to libraries. I decided therefore to be a self-taught actor and move quickly to the big screen. I was quite stubborn about the fact that I didn't want to enrol in any school to learn acting. I didn't want to attend classes. I learnt all about acting and its allied crafts when on stage. I felt this was the best way to learn. Because of my attraction to films I took to television very early. When in Delhi private producers started making their own shows for Doordarshan I started going for auditions and I got a lot of work on TV. At the same time I did a lot of radio plays for about 10 years."

During his Delhi days Parimoo did a lot of TV shows and radio plays. Before he came to Mumbai in 1992 he had already acted in about 30 plays and done a lot of TV and radio alongside. He was already known for his craft so he says it was not difficult getting roles.

"My maiden performance in UPER SE NEECHE where I got a lot of applause and this was a great motivation. I came to Mumbai not to make money but for experiencing films as I was already making money on TV. Moreover my love for theatre kept me doing plays which satiated my creative side. Initially I did at least one play every year. Unfortunately Hindi plays dot last long and one can do about 8-10 shows before the play is lost. Also as established actors were working on stage it was difficult getting their dates. I too faced this problem due to my TV commitments. Nevertheless I did plays with Makrand Deshpande, Nadira Babbar but then I stopped for a few years. After which I started my group called Natsamaj with the genuine intention of teaching newcomers as I noticed that newcomers were being fooled in Mumbai. I must have trained about 1000 students and these students performed many plays. By then a lot many small theatre auditoriums like Clap Centre apart from Prithvi had come up and I was able to put up cost effective shows there. Otherwise to put up a show costing Rs 1.5 lakh and get back only Rs 25000 is nonsensical. We are unable to make money on stage and that is the biggest drawback."

Parimoo explains what ails Hindi theatre and bemoans the fact that people in the metros are not attracted to it for various reasons."Hindi is not anyone's mother tongue and the cultural people of say Maharashtra are either Maharashtrians or Gujarati. They in fact even have the habit of watching plays in the afternoon. And both these languages have a lot many popular actors. But in Hindi the moment someone becomes famous he moves away. And since Mumbai is not a Hindi cultural belt this again poses a difficulty. English plays do much better due to the urban class in Mumbai. During this lockdown I did three plays with my students--TUGHLAQ, AADHE ADHURE and AASHAD KA EK DIN online. This is a very different experience as all actors work from their homes and all actors haven't even interacted with each other. We only work with the look of the actors, by making them look left and right so it appears that they are interacting with each other. All of them have a black curtain behind them and perform to an online audience. It's a very unique experience."

Talking about his milestone plays which to date he is proud of Parimoo says, "MITA KI KAHAANI which is a lesser known play of Vijay Tendulkar and done by Rajendranathji of Abiyaan, then MAHABHOJ by Devendranathji, AGNIGARBH based on the novel by Mahashweta Devi are some of the plays have given me the satisfaction of having developed my craft with the help of good directors."

Sharing an interesting incident he says, "It was a play titled SHRI SHRI GANESH that I had directed and my entry was in the second half. One of the actors forgot his lines and began to fumble after which there was a pause of about 30 seconds. I was in the green room getting my make-up done when I realised what was happening. I rushed to the wings and began prompting him and managed to save the situation. Later on everyone praised me and said I had saved the play. For another play I even filled in the shoes of the guy who was handling our music. He reported sick and I would rush to the tape recorder switch it on and run up to perform. After I would perform my part I would once again rush and play the role of the music operator. This taught me that life in theatre is like being on battle front where you must be alert and agile all the time."

Despite the fact that he has experienced all the three mediums and though theatre does give him great satisfaction the actor is forthright to add that he is more comfortable doing TV, cinema and web series. Theatre requires long rehearsals, dedication and most actors don't give this and hence doing theatre is a big challenge. It needs a lot of time and offers no returns. At this age the definition of first love changes; 25 years back theatre was my first love. I have worked in a repertory at a salary of a mere Rs 1500! Even right now if I am given a salary of even Rs 50000 I am ready to do theatre. But right now at my age with the kind of exposure a theatre actor gets it's not practical. It's a fool's paradise then. You may love everything about theatre but it's not the best option. We have been unable to develop theatre like our counterparts in the West. Theatre offers them great opportunities there but in India it's not the same. We are spending from our own pockets when we do theatre. It's 'seva' that we do. It's a losing proposition and even the best theatre groups do not make money. In order to give theatre its glory we need to have schools like NSD in all states. State governments should fund such school and drama should be combined with cinema. It should be a combination of FTII and NSD. In one go a student should learn all the aspects. It should have practical implications."

For Parimoo the meaning of success is when a person is physically, mentally, spiritually healthy. If his finances are okay and he is spiritually evolved I would say he is successful. One may be a millionaire but weak on all other fronts I would not call him successful. It has to be a combination of all that gives the right balance."My belief is that the aim of art should not only be entertainment. Art is meant for upliftment of humanity. Art for art sake is good for only some time. And art for entertainment is very cheap way of dealing with this art."

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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