Interview
 
Umesh Kamat Interview
Umesh Kamat is a Marathi TV serial and film actor and became popular for his lead roles in serials like Asambhav and Eka Lagnachi Teesri Goshta. His theatre journey started as a child with the play SONCHAFA. In this interview, he talks about his latest play DADA EK GOOD NEWS AAHE and his journey as a theatre actor.


 By Neha S.


You started your theatre journey as a child in Shivaji Mandir where you are performing today. Is it special to perform here?
Actually, it is not, I don't think that Shivaji Mandir is the only place where I feel special. For me, the audience matters. Where the audience gives me a great response, that show, that theatre is absolutely special for me. Yes, I performed first in this theatre, so Shivaji Mandir has a different nostalgia. But for me, Shivaji Mandir, Pune theatres like Yashwantrao Kothrud or Balgandharva Rang Mandir, Chinchwad, be it Gadkari Rangayatan Thane, Dinanath Parle, Borivali, every theatre has its quality. I would rather talk about a particular show. Like, I remember shows where people are crazily reacting, I love the bumper response of laughter as well as the pin drop silence when something serious is happening on stage.

Your plays are more urban. Do you prefer performing in Mumbai-Pune because you get a better response?
Yeah, that's right. I like to do plays that I can relate to. I try not to do plays that have been done earlier and are being revived. I might do one once in a while, but I prefer to create new things. Like I think the specialty of DADA EK GOOD NEWS AAHE is that this is Kalyani Pathare's (writer) first play. She is my college friend. And she thought of this subject from a Facebook post -- a brother and sister holding the sister's baby, like a family portrait. With that, she thought of the sibling relationship. Or the character of Vineet, she had seen someone similar in her family, someone who didn't get along with their father at all. So she had these characters in her mind and she had developed the plot for a TV serial. But that didn't work out and then she narrated the story to me and I said why not make it into a play? I am liking this and I'd like to do this. But she wasn't ready to write the play. She said she'll write a one-page story and ask someone else to write the play. But I insisted, "Whatever you want to write, you write, let's see". And then Adwait (Dadarkar, director of the play), I admire him a lot, he's my favourite director. I also insisted that he listen to her story. His call was very important to me. Kalyani had written only three scenes, but she wanted feedback. So we did a reading. His first reaction was, "What you have written feels very true and that is very important". And then we (Kamat along with his wife -- actress Priya Bapat) also decided to come in as producers for the first time, we thought that we should back a topic like this. I had worked with Nandu sir (Kadam, Sonal Productions) on DON'T WORRY BE HAPPY, so he's also very fond of me and he liked the play and believed that what we were going to do was good. So that's how DADA EK GOOD NEWS AAHE was created and I like this process. I don't like to do a new play every year just for the sake of it. So now the success of this play gives me more satisfaction because this play was created from absolutely nothing. I give preference to new writers. I had read 17 scripts before choosing DON'T WORRY BE HAPPY, 12-15 scripts before DADA EK GOOD NEWS AAHE. When I wanted to do a new play, the scripts did not seem convincing, and then this play happened. Now again, I have read 20-22 scripts and I am still searching. Let's see. Theatre gives me a lot of satisfaction, the satisfaction of creating, the enjoyment of a live performance. Of course, TV and films are equally important to me. But yes, right now, I'm enjoying theatre a lot. And I think the response is good too. About preferring Mumbai-Pune for performance, it is not just about that. We've done 250 shows of the play and many times we've gotten the comment that they've watched a play for the first time in their lives. Plays have somewhere become a form of entertainment for people above 40-45 years of age. So older plays get more audience. Before, plays would regularly have a 'Houseful' board hung outside the theatre. But if you don't bring in plays based on topics that are relatable and enjoyable for the youth, how will we find an audience in younger generations? Then how will the artform continue? I mean I am not trying to make big statements about theatre. My basic thought is this: If I like a subject, people my age and younger will surely like it, even the older audience will like it. That's why I choose subjects that the maximum number of people will relate to. And somewhere I use my popularity from TV, they know me, so they will try and come to the theatre. You can watch TV at home but you have to make an effort to come to the theatre, spend three hours plus the commute. So this is giving me a kick -- yes, people are coming to the theatre for me, to see my team. They are coming to see our production, which shows that the audience has confidence in our work. So going forward, I'd like to continue doing this.

Are you looking to produce more? Since you have said such subject matter is better appreciated by younger people, should popular actors like you produce more such plays?
Absolutely. Rather I think there's this phase right now, where not just in theatre, but even in films, actors and actresses are beginning to create work for themselves. Otherwise, an actor is quite dependent. A good writer must write a good script, a good director must take up the project, and then they must choose to cast us from among the competition. So it's a big process and one cannot always wait for such casting for that one film. When I choose this as my profession, it is my means of livelihood too, I have to look at all these factors. So why not produce? If I like the subject and want to act in it, why not? Of course I should produce such things. So even going forward, if I like something, I would like to produce it, be it any creation.

You said you don't necessarily want to do a new play each year, you'd rather a play run for more shows. Why this philosophy? Is there some economics involved?
No, no I don't mean I won't do a new play each year. But some actors are insistent on doing a new play each year. I don't want that. If I find a good play next year, I will do it. I'd even do two plays around the same time if they're good. About economics, doing more shows is beneficial to any production. The period doesn't matter, more shows in a shorter period even, is better. Before, Marathi plays would easily run for 500, 600, 1,000 shows, because they ran even on weekdays. When I was a younger performer, I remember there would be shows on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays starting at 11 in the morning at Shivaji Mandir. Now it's only the weekends because theatre-goers have reduced. I want that situation to return. Like you just open the show, any day, any time and people come to watch it. But that's why the run of a play has reduced. 100-200 shows are considered a lot, 300 is rare and you can count on the fingers of your hand the number of plays that have crossed 500 shows. That's why the number of shows matters.

DADA EK GOOD NEWS AAHE has had a run of over 250 shows now. What is the difference between the first show and today's show?
I think energy and intention-wise, there's no difference. The subject we want to bring to the audience or the impact we want to have is the same. I wanted to do this play primarily to explore the relationship dynamics between a brother and sister. There have been many stories about couples, but not many about siblings. The story was about a premarital pregnancy. It can be thought of as a bold subject. Even if it's a light-hearted play, this subject always makes up the overarching story. What changes after 250 shows? Sometimes we understand certain things because of the audience's response. We may be trying to deliver one thing but they are understanding it differently. So why not tweak it? Or if there's a change of actor -- Rishi (Manohar) used to do Bobby's role, now Ashutosh (Gokhale) does it. He brings his own style and we never insist that he continue what Rishi was doing, you shouldn't have to copy someone else. We would crack some jokes about Rishi's height, but Ashutosh is not tall like that, so those jokes were removed, new ones were made up. Now Hruta (Durgule) has left, Mruga (Bodas) has taken up Namita's role. Mruga is 21, which is the actual age of the character, Hruta was 29, even though she didn't look it. They both bring different things to the role as actresses. I noticed something the other day when we were doing a reading. At the end of the first scene, I call the gynac for my sister. And suddenly they reacted. All this time, I wouldn't look at them when I made the call. So I asked them why they were reacting with shock. They said, "We thought you are calling for an abortion appointment". I asked why they assumed that? "You'd have to go to the gynac even for a normal check-up during pregnancy. So why are you anticipating it's for an abortion?" Then they said, "Oh right! Let's not react like that". So we changed this right now. The subject remains the same but the presentation has been improved. In a recent rehearsal, we found another thing. In the first scene when Mithila tells Namita that Vineet is being sent to the US for industrial training, Bobby being Bobby, Adwait asked Ashutosh if he could suddenly react with a "Wow!" at that information. Then the rest of us can exclaim about how he reacted like that given the situation that's unfolding. Sometimes we chance upon something unexpected. After about 100 shows we noticed something during this scene when my character slaps Namita and she leaves the house. After she exits, Bobby follows her with her bag. So in many of the shows, we got laughter at Bobby's exit and we wondered why. Then we realised, because of Bobby's image, whatever he does makes people laugh. The audience searched for a relief point. So we changed it from Bobby following with the bag to Namita herself dragging the bag out angrily, and we stopped getting the laughter. As shows progress we find these things, that maybe the tension created is dissipating because of an action. There should be relief points, but there are times for that, and this is not the time.

In theatre, when you are acting out the same scenes repeatedly over weeks and months, how do you stop it from feeling fake to yourself?
That is the challenge of theatre. A very correct question. In the beginning, everything feels new. But after a point, there's the possibility that monotony or mechanical-ness creeps in, and sometimes it does happen, I will not lie. But at such a time if you are aware as an artiste and have an open mind, you feel it. So there I think you need to bring in a break. You must revisit your performance. Sometimes our director or Priya or our writer will attend a show and tell us that we are not listening to each other anymore. We are anticipating our co-actor's line and delivering our own. That's when you stay aware and start everything anew. Then sometimes you change up some lines, get a different reaction and something fresh is brought out. Sometimes you change your pause work, the emotional intensity. You try to match the intensity of your response to your co-actor's if they have changed theirs. When family and friends attend a show and meet us after, or even when a member of the audience comes and tells us what they liked and disliked, we take it seriously. We don't just dismiss it because the play is set. That also changes many things and breaks the monotony and you enjoy each show like it's new.

So when you have emotional scenes, are you that sort of actor who's crying completely as your character Vineet or do you think of things in your own life and access them?
No, I think this is the process. When I first started theatre, I couldn't do it, I'll be honest. I would try to do emotional scenes technically. Some actors access emotions from their life and emote, but I don't do that. I tried that in the beginning, but I can't. Otherwise, I will forget my lines. If I start thinking about my personal life, I won't stay aware of the character's situation. I tried various things. I've read Dr. Shriram Lagoo's book on acting (Wachik Abhinay). But no, I think you must develop your own technique. You must study what can trigger you and understand how to emote effortlessly as shows progress. You can't teach anyone. That is your own experience.

Even though this play is about siblings, the genre feels like a rom-com. You are often cast as the romantic lead. How do you differentiate between these characters?
I think I totally believe in the script. When I read it, I think about how I can relate to the character. Since they're rom-coms, there aren't elaborate costumes or make-up, so a lot of myself seeps into these characters. Also, the writer and director are very important to me. Even though I've done many rom-coms, the director is different. So I try to work on their inputs. I am the same person, but the inputs are from the director's point of view, how my character will express emotion, how he will romance, how he will react comically. So I try to take that and go close to that character.

There are some essential personality traits that a romantic lead has or the way a romantic lead must romance. What is it according to you?
I think make-believe -- that is important. I think the eyes are very important. And you should feel it on the inside. And many times it's not about who is in front of you, sometimes there's only the camera and you have to be romantic. So if you see, it's quite technical. But in romantic scenes, I prefer to use my eyes and if I can feel it on the inside, then I can perform better. And of course, if the writer has created an effective situation and the director's going to shoot it in a certain way -- or choreograph the scene in case of a play -- then you only need to feel it in the moment.

You said you like to have a good friendship or bond with your director. Do you try to work with directors you are familiar with, if not as directors then at least as acquaintances?
No, I like first-time directors, because I like their energy a lot. They have something to prove and for that, they really work passionately -- that doesn't mean veteran directors don't -- but I like new directors because they are more open, freer, clear in their heads, they have new ideas. So I enjoy working more. Yes, of course, it takes time to develop a bond. But it's not like you start shooting right after signing a film. You meet for workshops, discuss characters, and the script, and a bond is created. Now whether you click with each other, depends. If you do, you can perform better, but even if you don't, as an artiste, it is my responsibility to deliver to the satisfaction of the director or writer.

So do you have any pre-show rituals? Maybe a playlist where for a rom-com you like to listen to romantic music before the show?
To tell you the truth, I don't get the time, but yes I do like music. It depends on my mood, but I prefer listening to romantic songs, be they old or new. Sometimes, I like listening to classical. Then it could be before a show or for a film or just in my free time. So it's not like I listen to certain music for a particular role, but sometimes it helps. If I'm going to set and feeling down, I might listen to music. But there's no ritual.

You have said that you don't prefer any one medium. But say you have been doing a play for a long time and then have a shoot in between. Does it sort of shock your system? Do you change anything?
I like to do that. Nothing changes. Only there's a lot of time spent commuting in Mumbai (laughs). Otherwise, I am in character for the show and once I leave and go to set, there's that character. Yes, I won't go for a shoot when it's the very first show of a play. Once I get a hold of the character after a few days, then I will try and do both things at a time. Like after five shows, once the play is set, then I'm comfortable doing that. Of course, I will keep searching for new things for my character, but once I'm confident about the base, I can do shooting and theatre shows at a time.

*Neha S. is an avid theatre-goer and enjoys watching old Bollywood movies in her free time.




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