Vinay Varma Interview
Vinay Varma is an actor, director, dubbing artiste, script-writer, casting director, and acting coach. He heads Sutradhar Casting House and the Theatre group Sutradhar. He started out as an amateur theatre practitioner and is now a theatre personality of national repute. He considers Prof. Bhaskar Shewalkar as his guru. He has been passionately involved with theatre for more than 30 years. His theatrical career has seen him directing about 20 plays, acting in over 150 performances, conducting acting workshops since 1999, and voice workshops since 2003. He has trained more than 75 actors over 20 long-term and short-term workshops and through personalized training. His work also includes using theatre as a medium for education and rehabilitation. He is a visiting faculty in many media studies schools/programs.

 By Parul Rana

How did your interest in theatre pique and how did you start your journey as a theatre actor?
Like most youngsters, I was enamored by films, and not knowing where to start, the mirror became my stage and camera. I used to listen to a lot of Radio – the Announcers, as they were called then, film songs, Binaca Geet Mala, Hawa Mahal, etc. – and let my imagination run riot with body movements, expressions, and lip-syncing in front of the mirror. Theater performances were few, and whatever little happened was performed in this huge and the only auditorium called Ravindra Bharati. Not until I stepped into my Master's when I was enquired by Dr. D K Goel, a Research Scholar on Hindi films if I would be interested in acting. And that was it. Skeptical, I said if you think I can, then I will try. So he gave me Dr. Laxminarayan Lal's COFFEE HOUSE MEIN INTEZAR, and the role just fitted the age – a rebel without a cause. Being the first appearance on stage I went all hammer and tongs with the role amid a lot of dialogue baazi and seemed to have nailed it. The audience was very encouraging towards a greenhorn. I bit the bullet. Discovered the magic of stage...and still trying to find me.

Please share with us your experience with performing MAIN RAHI MASOOM which was a solo act by you. What inspired you to take this soliloquy and what has the experience been like in preparing and performing the part.

Playing the great Nationalist Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza was a challenge and a journey within. Admittedly, I knew little about him, and that was him as a film writer. When I further dwelled into the 519-page journal ABHINAV KADAM, dedicated to his 75th birth anniversary, a whole new world opened before me. With nobody to guide as to how he looked, spoke, wore, etc....I drowned myself into reading him further - his thoughts, his writings, interviews, letters, etc....and I could hear him speak. I did get a lot of help about his clothing and lifestyle from his widow Nayyar Jahan, son Nadeem Khan and daughter-in-law, Parvati Khan. After a lot of research, a 75-minute script emerged, and the challenge was to play a chain-smoking, paan-chewing Rahi in his drawing-room. After months and months of rehearsals, when the show was premiered before an audience which also comprised alumni from the Aligarh Muslim University; and those who knew him personally, the initial reaction was "How often have you met Rahi?" I could sense the dismissal coming. I confessed "Never". Taken aback they were curious as to how I could catch the mannerisms, the walk, the costume, and his entire ambiance! I thanked my stars and said that it was perhaps divine intervention that pulled the strings. Their responses propelled me to work harder, also since Nayyar aunty said "tumne Masoom ko zinda kar diya..." It now became more of a responsibility, a mission to propagate his thoughts without the histrionics and the propaganda. The audience response at each of the 50-odd venues across India and London is only to be heard to be believed. The film fraternity present at the FTII, Pune, and the Prithvi Theater got visibly emotional during and after the show. Javed Akhtar remarked, "It was uncanny". An elderly lady (who knew Rahi well) asked my director where he got hold of this young Rahi from! He walks, talks, smokes, and chews paan just like him!

My own hard work and my director Prof. Bhasker Shewalkar's guidance notwithstanding, I would give the entire credit of the performance to Rahi himself – his persona, his work, his writings, his speeches, interviews, etc. it is so strong and overpowering that perhaps any decent actor with a great amount of integrity and honesty could carry off.

Your body of work includes acting in theatre, films, Voice-over projects, casting projects, and much more. How do you juggle between these streams and what do you enjoy doing the most?
I enjoy every aspect of my creative journey. I choose the work I like, not that only pays me. I love acting otherwise, including voice acting, regardless of the medium. In and for theatre I'm game to do anything from cleaning the premises to being the boss, but I choose my film assignments diligently, and not everything that comes my way, where the characterization is defined more by the depth rather than the length. More importantly, I've never left nor intend to leave a theatre project midway because of a film assignment. Honesty and integrity are what theatre has taught me and shall never do injustice to it. Needless to say, I enjoy doing theatre the most, as it gives me the freedom to think, experiment, and refines the humane element in me.

You have worked in theatre for around 30 years now, are there any major landmark changes that you have witnessed or noticed and would like to discuss.
Definitely, there have been structural changes, and content-wise as well. With a whole new smaller performing space coming up, theatre groups are experimenting more with the structure and devising new presentation techniques. The rapid urban expansion has led to the creation of locality-based performing spaces, as against the huge ones in the Central Business Districts of the recent past. Theatre groups are now catering to smaller audiences, with an increase in the number of performances. And that has impacted the choice of scripts too. Folk performances have sadly taken a hit, but it is in the interest of the Nation, that the Folk arts be preserved, for that is where the Soul of Art lies.

Please share your thoughts about the fate of theatre in the current times? Did you indulge in doing online theatre? If yes, please discuss with us your experience with the digital medium.
Like every other business, craft, and art, theatre is going through difficult times. The positive side is that the theatre fraternity has united to help those in distress across the country. Yes, showcasing recorded performances online was the only option, and contrary to the skepticism, it opened a new set of relationships. Practitioners from different parts of the world, leave alone the country got to know of each other's works, which otherwise would not have been possible. That was exposure and learning of a different kind. We had seven of our recorded plays, performed earlier, showcased online through BookMyShow. The response was encouraging to say the least, despite the technical glitches. We also did a live reading performance of Sa'adat Hasan Manto's SIYAAH HAASHIYE hosted by mumbaitheatreguide. At the personal level, had a few live interactive sessions with theatre groups and personalities, which again was great learning.

You also work as an acting coach, could you please give any piece of advice for aspiring actors.
Discipline is the key. Submit yourself to the craft, stay obedient to the script, character, and the Director. You're only as good as your last performance. Don't rest on your laurels. Every new role is a new beginning. Like the magic slate, write, erase and write again. Learn and unlearn, and finally, rarely trust a compliment and applause, but enjoy them nonetheless. And yes, be thankful for what you have. Gratitude goes a long way in making a human being an actor.

*Parul Rana is a theatre enthusiast and movie buff.

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