Siddharth Randeria Interview
The undisputed master of comedy, a fine actor and a passionate theatre lover Siddharth Randeria wears many hats. He is an actor, director, producer and writer of several plays to his credit. With over five decades on the Gujarati stage , Siddharth has also acted in Hindi and Gujarati films and TV serials. Though he is more known for the iconic Gujjubhai series on stage, he also has plays like GURUBRAHMA, RANG CHE RAJJA, BAS KAR BAKULA to his credit.

 By Jahnavi Pal

On his foray into acting:
I get the acting genes from my father, the late Madhukar Randeria who was an actor as well. When in college I took part in Inter-college drama competitions as in those days that was the ground from which actors got picked up as directors would come to watch the plays. Acting always drew me since I grew up watching rehearsals. The main turning point came in 1972 when I did inter-college plays as this was the only window that allowed you an entry on the stage.

On his professional debut:
For three years I did inter-college plays and won prizes. After this my next step was Indian National Theatre, which had then decided to give a boost to new talent. So all of us who had won prizes were selected for a new play. Paresh Rawal, Mahendra Joshi, Arundhati and Shankar Nag, Homi Wadia and myself were part of a play based on World War 2 called VAIRI directed by Arvind Thakkar .

On over five decades on stage:
It's been a wonderful journey and I have nothing to complain. I would not ask for anything else to replace this. In the initial years theatre was not a viable option and I had joined an architectural firm to supplement my income. For almost 15 years I worked as an Interior Designer but as I began getting a firm foothold in theatre, the day came when I had to choose between the two professions. I opted for theatre as the success I was getting on stage encouraged me to make this choice. By then I was doing plays with Pravin Joshi, Sarita Joshi and was being recognised for my work. I could do all this because my father being a theatre person could understand my passion.

On having made his mark despite being an unconventional looking hero:
Those days were different. People like Sanjeev Kumar, Rajesh Khanna had arrived and more importance was given to how you perform. I think for an actor there is something called X factor which is your presence on stage. There can be ten actors on stage but when you make an entry is what sets you apart. The natural aura one has along with your acting ability is what gives you an edge. Actors like Bhakti Barve , Sarita Joshi ruled the stage then.

On the secret of his success:
Whatever I did I did with full conviction. I gave it everything. I kept the learning in me alive and today at 66 too I do that. My every show I am learning something new. I try and put in something new for each and every performance. I try to blend cinematic acting on stage also now. Those days when one had to be a little louder are over. I still remember that one sentence which my dad told me, you learn acting when you learn how not to act. That is my motto in life. It is not what you decide. Its not the actor who decides what he is or where he is. It's the audience, the director who feels the worth in you and wishes to come to see you.

On his cult series, Gujjubhai:
Firstly, to draw a parallel this series of plays is like Coca Cola. It was never meant to be a beverage but became one by accident and now its an unbeatable brand. It's the same with Gujjubhai. It was not pre-meditated. I just gave the play a name, GUJJUBHAI GAAM GAJAVYU and it became such a huge success that the producers felt we should use the name again and hence we did LAGE RAHO GUJJUBHAI which was another turning point in my life. In three years it completed 750 shows and I don't think any other play has done so well. This could have still gone on but the fatigue had set in and everybody felt we should do something else. In fact I shut it with sold out shows. This cemented the name as a brand. None of the stories are similar or continued and the only constant in the play is me.

On humour being the sole driver:
I am no expert to explain why comedy plays do better than other plays. But my observation is that internationally too the same trend has been noticed. Haven't we seen sitcoms doing better than the others? What about Here's Lucy? All these come under the entertainment category where audiences can relax in the evenings. Even where Hindi films are concerned good comedies have always done well. It's all about the fact that people want to be entertained.

On being labelled the king of comedy:
I don't want to be labelled as a comedian. Yes, I enjoy doing comedies but I don't want to be bracketed. I have done so many plays which have been equally successful. I have done serious plays like GURUBRAHMA directed BY Shafi Inamdar, and HAMARI DUNIYA TAMHARI DUNIYA which was based on NATSAMRAT which I did 30 years back. I have also done the film just three years ago but I would like to say on record that I did the play better than the movie because it was better conceptualised. Of course I tweaked the play in such a manner that audiences would accept it

On the current status of Gujarati plays:
This decline or rusting in the quality of Gujarati plays started because of a Catch 22 kind of situation. People started depending on charity shows where actors wanted to do 25-27 shows a month because otherwise they were doing only Sundays. In order to cater to that audience there were short-cuts and mediocrity began to seep in. That's why the decline. At the same time I accept that Gujarati stage lacks writers which Marathi stage has. Even where actors are concerned Marathi stage offers so many good options that if a replacement is needed there is a list of good actors. And that's the reason people like Paresh Rawal, Tiku Talsania or me are still playing the lead and producers are not going for younger actors.

On the current craze of OTT:
In the 70s there was a threat from television but in retrospect it was not as big as that from OTT. In those days not many homes owned a TV set. Now the threat is scary as now every room in a house has a TV with a Netflix or Amazon connection. One is spoilt for choice and to add to it the pandemic has helped in forming a habit. It's a reason to worry for live theatre. It will be on crutches and will need support. OTT is a great platform. It's a great opportunity for actors. Unlike movies one need not stick to the parameters of movie making. On the OTT platform one can experiment with new faces and subjects. I too am open to this medium if I get a substantial part to play. Currently I am enjoying my phase in Gujarati films as I am getting to play pivotal roles. I don't need that validation that I have done a Hindi film.

On his work during the lockdown:
I did more than 40 shows of BLUFFMASTER GUJJUBHAI even in the current lockdown phase. I took the risk of doing plays with even the 50% audience rule and we did housefull shows. I didn't cut a penny of my actors as they have been sitting patiently during this period. I will now begin my USA tour for this play which we had to abandon during Covid times.

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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