Sanat Vyas Interview with Jahnavi Pal
"I am not really excited when I get a call for a film or a TV serial but a call for a role in a good play revs me up," begins the veteran actor Sanat Vyas. "Plays have always been my first love and shall always remain so. I began with commercial plays way back in the seventies and I have neither tired nor lost interest in this medium." Walking down memory lane with this versatile actor gives one an insight into his professional life as he shares nuggets of this long journey.

 By Jahnavi Pal

In his four decades as an actor Vyas has acted in about 125 plays and some landmark serials and films as well. JEEVANSATHI, ABHIMAAN, KORI AANKHON BHEENA HAIYA, KHELAIYA, AKASMAT, TREVIS KALAK BAVAN MINUTE, OLKHAN , GURUBRAHMA, SAKHANA REHJO RAJ, BAAEY MAARI BOUNDARY, ZERO BANI GAYO HERO, JANTAR-MANTAR being a few of his notable plays.

"Though I cannot say that I wanted to always be an actor I must add that I acted in my first play when I was in the sixth standard. And I did enjoy this experience. So after my graduation in Ahmedabad I came to Mumbai to pursue my studies in Law. In those days there was a sense of dissatisfaction and some disquiet within me. Nothing that I did gave me any sense of happiness. It was during one such phase that I chanced upon an advertisement where they wanted fresh talent. I applied and I was selected. And this was the beginning of my journey as an actor."

"My commercial debut was in 1974 with a play called VAAYDA NA FAAYDA written by Mulraj Rajda under the aegis of a group called Bahuroopi by Lalu Shah and Vijay Dutt. I didn't understand the nuances of theatre but slowly learned the craft as in those days veterans guided you and helped you with your role. I am not a trained actor and am of the belief that an untrained actor is like Columbus he sets off to explore the world and rests only after he has found it. I may have not gone to an acting school and got certificates but have learnt it all from theatre biggies like Pravin Joshi, Arvind Trivedi Sailesh Dave, Mahendra Joshi."

Vyas then did a historical play which he says he enjoyed thoroughly and counts it as one of his best works. "In 1979 I did a play called ABHIMAAN which was based on the life of Tansen. I played the son of Tansen in this musical play and I can say it was the turning point in my life. It was a play much ahead of its time where a lot of time and money had been invested in the music and sets. We performed on a revolving stage where workers worked on the set for the next scene whilst we performed in the forefront. The music had maestros like Sultan Khan, Zarin Daruwala, playing music and Ghulam Mustafa Khan, Kaumudi Munshi singing. Unfortunately the play didn't do well. In fact all of us were so upset that all of us including the technical crew decided to take a cut in our fees in order that the play would run. Sadly it didn't work and the play was pulled off.

"Regardless of me having done some very good plays there have been many ups and downs in my life and had to struggle for survival as well. This was the time when DD aired its Sunday film and dramas were often hit if the film to be aired was a popular hit. There would be no shows if a hit film was on the schedule as nobody would come to watch the play. Financers too only invested in a play but never understood the business of theatre."

Coming to the current phenomenon of sold-out shows on Gujarati theatre Vyas says it's not the social groups to be blamed but the blame lies with those doing theatre. "It's when we don't know how to do this business that we have to call outsiders to do it for us. If they then dictate terms one should accept it."

Vyas candidly says that none of his plays has given him a sense of achievement or fulfillment as he thinks that if he ever feels that way then it is the end of the artiste in him. "But yes, I have done plays which have made me feel good. When I do plays that are the opposite of what I look like or that go against my personality they give me a sense of satisfaction. Like my play OLKHAN directed by Sailesh Dave where I played a Muslim. I had to wear a beard, a wig and padded shoulders as I had a weak physique then. In fact nobody recognised me and this was what I enjoyed. The play had an unusual set designed by the talented set designer Vijay Kapadia."

Vyas has also been seen in the longest running bi-lingual serial, Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka. "I enjoyed doing this serial as most of the actors in this serial were all theatre artistes. This was therefore like disciplined theatre as we worked with multiple camera set-ups and this experience was worth it all. We gave shots in two languages--Hindi and Gujarati--and this serial did over 1000 episodes. It was great fun to be part of this serial."

From 1973-1983 Vyas worked for a long time on DD behind the camera. "I had worked with talented people like Jyoti Vyas and Mariam Jetpurwala who held my hand and taught me all about the technicalities of this craft. Whatever I understand today of the visual media is all because of Mariam. In those all of us taught each other and it was a wonderful training ground."

Coming back to his first love Vyas says that in recent times the two plays that he enjoyed working in were ZERO BANI GAYO HERO where he played a terrorist and JANTAR MANTAR a play focusing on exorcism where he played a pundit. "By and large I have always played the ‘scolding' father in many plays," he says with a laugh. "I am not complaining as this too was work for me and a means to livelihood.

"Theatre has been my biggest training ground. So despite me having done films and TV, even now I grow show after show when I do a play. I know that there is a lot of money and popularity in both the other mediums they don't excite me as much. I am not interested in any medium where I don't see my volunteers (doorkeepers) or my technical crew and my co-actors. I opt for this work not out of choice but due to compulsion of keeping the home fires burning.

"An artiste always lives in fear. In fact all actors feel the sword hanging over their heads. But it is this sword that keeps you going. There are insecurities that are age-related and I feel that if I say no to the roles that I am being offered now I may not get a second chance. Moreover I am not a producer and cannot create roles for myself. When I see works of Arvind Joshi or Sarita Joshi I do feel a sense of remorse as to when will I get to do such work?"

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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