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Staged entry: Is Bollywood welcoming theatre actors more than ever?


Theatre actor Partha Akerkar (third from left) plays a crude Haryanvi in Sabbir Khan’s soon-to-release film, Heropanti 

For far too long now, many theatre actors have played second fiddle to mainstream actors in films. But if recent films are anything to go by, filmmakers are now acknowledging theatre experience in a bigger way. This is evident given the fact that theatre veterans such as KC Shankar, Manav Kaul, Partha Akerkar and Gopal Datt are now bagging prominent roles in Bollywood.


Gopal Datt (centre), who started his career in theatre, had a prominent role in Samrat and Co (2014)

Manav Kaul
Upcoming film: Citylights


Manav Kaul 

Actor speak: “It’s a safe bet to have theatre actors on board. It is now known that they can do a wide variety of roles because theatre is a live medium with a live audience. Cinema is changing now and the give and take, happening between cinema and theatre, is a good thing. It is great to see that theatre actors are finally getting acceptance.”

KC Shankar
Upcoming film: Heropanti


K C Shankar

Actor speak: “I have been a part of theatre for the last five years. Theatre has a multidisciplinary appeal to it and that is what we bring to cinema. We assume that acting is a big thing, but it is actually a small part of the entire process. Since it a live medium, it teaches you a lot of things. The beautiful part about cinema is that it can be captured, but it’s tricky as well because if I want to go back to what I have already shot for Heropanti, I can not. Theatre is the mother; it forms the base. I hope that actors don’t use theatre just as a stepping-stone
to cinema. I hope they go back to their roots even after becoming a part of cinema.”

Gopal Datt
Upcoming film: Filmistaan


Gopal Datt

Actor speak: “A lot of people are doing both cinema and theatre, and if they are really good on stage, they will win respect onscreen as well. Today, people who want to narrate complex stories — complete with intricate emotions — are going for more and more theatre actors. Theatre people are generally rough because the medium needs a lot of hard work. If good cinema is made, then theatre artists will continue to be in demand.”

Partha Akerkar
Upcoming films: Bang Bang, Jagga Jasoos, Heropanti, Kick and Tere Bin Laden-2


Partha Akerkar 

Actor speak: “People, who were involved in theatre, have now evolved into decent filmmakers; content in films too has improved. As a result, theatre enthusiasts are getting a bigger platform to perform. I am currently starring in five films. Usually, theatre actors play the lead actor’s buddy or a comedian in films but in Heropanti, I play a crude Haryanvi. The role has allowed me to grow, so yes, there is definitely a wider acceptance now. But at the same time, we have to be very conscious while choosing our roles.”

Been there, done that
Theatre actors making a name in Bollywood is not exactly new either. Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher, Om Puri, Nawazuddin and Irrfan Khan — they all started out with theatre before winning acclaim with their onscreen roles. Other instances that come to mind include Boman Irani, Mohan Agashe, Manoj Bajpayee, Vikram Gokhale, Kirron Kher and Lilette Dubey.

Filmmaker Hansal Mehta, who has directed Manav Kaul in Citylights, says, “Theatre background is a not pre-requisite to become a Bollywood actor. At times, theatre experience doesn’t work for cinema. I only cast actors if they perform well and I have worked with a lot of theatre actors. Good actors are always in demand.”

Hansal Mehta
Hansal Mehta

Sabbir Khan, who cast 21 new actors in Heropanti, says, “Out of these 21, many have a theatre background. Today, we see a lot of theatre actors who have made it big in Bollywood and their acceptance is on the rise. But as a filmmaker, I don’t differentiate between a theatre and a cine-actor. Everyone wants to work with fine actors regardless of the medium.”

Sabbir Khan
Sabbir Khan

Been there, done that
Theatre actors making a name in Bollywood is not exactly new either. Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher, Om Puri, Nawazuddin and Irrfan Khan — they all started out with theatre before winning acclaim with their onscreen roles. Other instances that come to mind include Boman Irani, Mohan Agashe, Manoj Bajpayee, Vikram Gokhale, Kirron Kher and Lilette Dubey.

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