Utkarsh Mazumdar Interview With Jahnavi Pal
Utkarsh Mazumdar lives theatre and lives for theatre. A director, singer, actor Utkarsh is a veteran on Gujarati, Hindi and English stage. Having worked with the greats like Satyadev Dubey Laxmikant Karpe, Arvind Thakkar amongst many others Utkarsh is a respected name in theatre.

 By Jahnavi Pal

For a man who has lived his life on stage for more than four decades the journey has definitely been very exhilarating. Sharing his experiences on stage Utkarsh talks about how he started and his passion for the craft. In an interesting chat the multi-talented Utkarsh traces the roots of his journey.

"It all began when I was in school," he says, going down memory lane." It was in the year 1966 when I would do Parsi skits in school. I enjoyed this experience not only because I got to act but for another reason. My school friend Dinshaw Palkhiwala would invite us to his house for the rehearsals and the icing on the cake was being treated to delicious Parsi food. This was my entry to the exciting world of drama. I then did a play written by Tarla Mehta called VAD ANE VADLO after which came the super successful ANDHERI GANDERI TIPRI TEN, a children's musical play written by Dhiruben Patel. I was in my tenth grade when I travelled all over the country doing this play. We did over 25 shows. I am the only one from this group who went on to become an actor."

Utkarsh then passed his SSC exam and enrolled for an Arts Degree in the prestigious St Xavier's college, Mumbai."There was a drama society in the college but they never did any Gujarati plays. I was keen on doing a Gujarati play for the inter-college competition but found it difficult to get either a director or actors. I knew Pravin Solanki, the playwright and requested him to direct a play for me. But I confessed to him we had no money to pay him. With great difficulty I put together the cast and fortunately the play didn't require an elaborate set so a simple box set was used. Despite all my hard work the play ended in a fiasco. The play which was a murder mystery had the last scene where the girl has to come and point a gun to my back and then it would be curtains. But I waited and waited and the girl never came. The mystery ended up in a comedy as the audience realized that something was amiss and everybody began to laugh. Later the girl told me that she couldn't change her costume as a zipper had snapped and hence she didn't come on stage. My first play in college flopped and I was devastated."

But the actor in him didn't give up hope and Utkarsh soon starting preparing for his next play."Once again we had no money and I got lucky a second time by finding a director to direct my play for free. I was by now quite friendly with theatre enthusiasts from Khalsa College and that's how I met Raman Kumar. He agreed to direct a very good play called ULTI GANGA. When I was in Xavier's Satish Shah was my classmate, Farooq Shaikh my senior and Anil Kapoor my junior. But as our rehearsals would clash with our prelims Satish would refuse to do a play at that time. As for me I would appear for my prelims and then go for the rehearsals. Not only was I very keen on theatre my parents too supported me whole heartedly. After ULTI GANGA I did GODOT KE INTEZAR MEIN adapted from the English play WAITING FOR GODOT. This play got me a lot of critical acclaim and people took notice of me."

By now Utkarsh was looking at theatre as a career option and he met Chandrakant Thakkar who suggested that he join Satyadev Dubey who was directing SAKHARAM BINDER in Gujarati."I was asked to do the backstage and I readily agreed. I looked after everything from lights, music to other production needs. I recall that when the play opened at Tejpal Auditorium the queue for the booking was all the way down the slope. The first show was houseful by afternoon. Soon Dubey asked me to act and I readily agreed. The play was ACHCHA EK BAAR AUR which was adapted from a Bengali play, GUINEA PIG. There were only four characters and all of us had parallel roles. Chitra Palekar and Dubey played one couple and Amrish Puri and me were the other two characters. It was a lovely play and this was the beginning of my association with the theatre legend Satyadev Dubey. In fact I did so many shows that as I was still growing in height my costume grew short. But I was never given a new one. To set the record straight Dubey never paid any of his actors. Not even conveyance. But the exposure we got made up for everything. We did his plays for the sheer pleasure of working with this genius. Amrish Puri was a great actor on stage but was yet a struggler in films."

Sharing some interesting nuggets about Dubey, Utkarsh says,"In the 70s Times of India placed drama ads only in the classified section. This is unlike now when you see a play advertised in a big column in bold letters. In order that readers did not miss announcements of new plays Dubey would always name his plays starting with ‘A' so that it would appear at the top of the classified section! Dubey was a strict disciplinarian and had a wild temper. If things didn't go his way he would yell, abuse and even throw objects at the actor. I remember once he asked me to read a script 100 times. I had read it only 15 times and he figured that out. He yelled at me before everyone present and I meekly sat in the wings and began to read the script all over again. Many a times during the grand rehearsals he would be very angry over some issue or the other. Most actors would run off and hide to come back once he had calmed down. No actor in a Dubey play was allowed to ever use a mike. He always stressed that we should learn the art of projecting our voice."

Utkarsh talks about the day he gave up a commercial play for Dubey and how that helped him later in life."I had rehearsed for a Kanti Madia play for over two months but gave it up for a play with Dubey as the dates clashed. This impressed Dubey and he told me that I was the first Gujarati to give up a commercial play in favour of an experimental play and that too one which wouldn't get me any money! To date I don't regret this."

During his days in Xavier's Utkarsh went on to do yet another play and that too without paying the director."Laxmikant Karpe directed a play for me but sadly this play got booed out as my co-actor who was making his debut froze on stage and couldn't say a word. I was heartbroken as my family had come to watch my play and then go for a celebratory dinner after that. After this debacle they left for dinner and I left carrying the lone prop of my show -- a chair all the way from Birla Auditorium to Xavier's as we didn't have money for transport too!"

Utkarsh is one of the few actors who volunteered to repeat a year in college so that he could continue to do plays. And the last play he did was THE LESSON with Arvind Thakkar as the director. Once again without paying a rupee to the director! He says that the secret behind all of them agreeing to work for free was because they saw his tremendous passion for plays. He even got the noted poet Sitanshu Yashaschandra to agree to write his first play for him. And he wrote the adaptation of THE LESSON which was a great success."Finally, my last play in college was a hit after so many fiascos."

Utkarsh went on to co-direct a play called BAMBAI KE KAUVE with his mentor Dubey and then played some small roles in several of his Hindi plays. This was Renuka Shahane's debut play and Astaad Deboo choreographed the dances. Utkarsh moved on to starting his theatre group called Arpana with friends Sunil Shanbag, Akash Khurana and Shishir Sharma. Having worked in several English plays like Tempt Me Not, Wedding Album, Footnotes Of Life Utkarsh straddled the world of English, Gujarati and Hindi plays with ease. After serving DD as producer for years he quit a well paying job for the love of theatre and returned to the stage. And audiences got to watch this talented actor in plays like Master Phoolmani, MARO PIYO GAYO RANGOON, MEGHANI SARVANI, JAGI NE JOVU TO."I never craved for money and that's why roads opened up for me," he signs off.

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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