Rahul Da Cunha: From Macbeth to Magneto

I was fortunate to be at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, the evening Mumbai met Magneto. When Aamir Khan interviewed a real actor — Sir Ian McKellen.

Truly no offence to the Indian star, but when both performers were hit with the same question by an audience member in the Q&A —“How do you approach playing drunk in a role?” Sir Ian said, “The real secret to playing drunk is to play it sober. Isn’t that what we do, try and act sober to cover our drunkeness?”

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Aamir, in stark contrast, said, “I down a bottle of vodka.”

With these two varying styles of acting, you kind of know the tenor of the evening.

As I sat in the auditorium, waiting for Gandalf to make his entrance, much went through my mind.
1. Like, what’s with us throwing Bollywood stars at any foreign dignitary that comes to town? Why is that our first port of call to impress the ‘firangis’?

Apple CEOs, actors extraordinaire, affable Duchesses, you name them, they’re first introduced to our cine stars.

2. Like Aamir hadn’t really done his homework — McKellen is perhaps one of the world’s five finest living actors. Mr Khan had no knowledge of the man’s stage work or previous screen credits, no clue about updates on LGBT facts, nothing. Our star needed to have moved up a notch by way of research and raconteurship.

How one longed for a Naseeruddin Shah to do the interview, but TRPs are TRPs, apparently.

This was surface stuff, cursory questioning.

3. Like, maybe it’s just me that wants deeper stuff out of the man — how does he prepare for Shakespeare, approach the vocalising of Shaw, as different from playing Strindberg. Or, how does acting for stage differ from screen.

I’ve followed Sir Ian’s career with much passion. This is the consummate stage actor. I’ve been fortunate to see him navigate Henrik Ibsen, opposite Vanessa Redgrave, waltz through Beckett’s Waiting For Godot opposite Patrick Stewart. Ask him about these experiences, Aamir, I found myself silently hoping.

But, maybe audiences want ‘simple’, we’ve dumbed down so incredibly.

4. Like, is it a coincidence that a number of great stage thespians, have played superheroes, or characters with super powers. From cloaks to capes, as it were.

Sir Ian, the late Alan Rickman, Ian Holm were/all fascinated by superheroes, as witnessed in X Men and Lord of the Rings.

These are men, who love modern day villains. No obvious black and white 2D cardboard cutout baddies.

McKellen has played villains with tragic pasts. Characters like Gandalf and Rickman’s Professor Snape are created by JR Tolkien and JK Rowlings. But, deep down they are Shakesperean characters — with tragic flaws, and complicated back stories and evil thoughts and visions of ambition and revenge.

5. Like, I found myself fascinated, here was a man who’d survived on theatre alone. Still curious, still searching, still getting under the skin of characters. At 77.

Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62@gmail.com

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