What's common between a 20-something guy being chased by zombies on an all-boys trip to Goa, a guy strutting around Emraan Hashmi’s house in his underwear and a chubby ‘loser’ who has suicidal tendencies? Nothing, you might think. But here’s what: Anand Tiwari, Namit Das and Kunaal Roy Kapur are all established stars on the stage who are now essaying these pivotal roles in their respective movies — Go Goa Gone, Ghanchakkar and Nautanki Saala. All the three films will hit the marquee in the next few weeks. They are some of the many theatre artistes who started off with small roles, but are now getting more screen space in commercial Hindi movies.
New-wave cinema demands new faces
Theatre artistes have always been an integral part of cinema, case in point are actors such as Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Anupam Kher, Shabana Azmi and Rajit Kapur, to name a few. But of late younger stage artistes are being seen onscreen more, thanks to their popularity in television commercials and also the new wave of movies that is dominating Hindi cinema. Many films that are being made today are neither conventional ‘love stories’ nor are driven by the hero and heroine alone. Newer subjects demand younger artistes who are not only good actors but can also blend in well with the cast and make the film look realistic. Some examples are Bejoy Nambiar’s Shaitan that had theatre artistes Gulshan Devaiah and Neil Bhoopalam in pivotal roles or Anushka Rizvi’s Peepli [Live] that featured stage actors in lead as well as character roles. Adman and theatre veteran Rahul da Cunha, says, “Today cinema has become more realistic and it is the demand of the script that compels filmmakers to cast young faces. Directors and writers are penning character-based roles and are casting theatre artistes as they have realised that they are the ‘real’ actors.”
Filmmaker Raj Nidimoru, who has helmed the soon-to-be-released Go Goa Gone along with his partner Krishna DK, couldn’t agree more. The director, who had earlier cast theatre actors Amit Mistry in 99 and Radhika Apte in Shor In The City, says, “Earlier, we only had star-driven movies, but now scripts demand young, fresh faces and theatre artistes fit the bill perfectly.”
Apart from this, these performers are a natural choice especially because they are more feasible than models or relatively-known faces. Explaining the logistics, Nidimoru says, “Casting theatre actors works for both — directors as well as producers. The producer knows that these artistes won’t charge a bomb while directors get an opportunity to explore new talent.”
A talented lot
Stage artistes are also cast as they are disciplined about their work, professional in their approach and it’s easier for them to make the transition from plays to films. Nidimoru, says, “These actors are well-rounded artistes who have strong fundamentals. We cast Anand Tiwari after we saw him performing in a one-act play and were impressed by the way he held the audience’s attention. Theatre artistes are very good at improvising and take an effort to come up with something extra. That comes from the experience that they derive from performing in front of a live audience and improvising impromptu by gauging the audience’s reaction.”
Mukesh Chhabra, a well-known casting director, who has scouted theatre artistes for Vikas Bahl’s Chillar Party, Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur, and most recently for Abhishek Kapoor’s Kai Po Che, says that such performers are a disciplined lot. “Stage artistes don’t have an attitude and can work in the most adverse conditions. They understand the nuances of their character well. Since they are also used to performing on a wide stage where there are no restrictions on their movements, they have an easy body language and look completely natural onscreen.”
While theatre actors are making the most of the moment, the reasons they are lapping up film offers are diverse. Tiwari, who was earlier seen in Kites, Aisha and Udaan, says, “I’m a huge cinema buff. I have always wanted to be a director and am glad that I have got an opportunity to act in movies. I have worked as an assistant director in Barfi! and the President is Coming, so it’s good to have a well-rounded experience both in front of the camera and behind it. I’m hoping to start my film by the end of this year.”
Das, on the other hand, says, “The best plays will only have a certain number of people who come to watch it, whereas cinema has a wider reach. The commercial value of films is higher and you get more exposure.”
Roy Kapur, who was earlier seen in Loins of Punjab Presents and Delhi Belly, admits that cinema is a more stable and high-paying profession than theatre. “Unfortunately in India, you can’t be financially successful only by performing in plays. This is one of the reasons theatre artistes look at films.”
However for theatre actor-director Manav Kaul, who impressed critics and audiences alike with his role in Kai Po Che, the medium doesn’t matter. He says nonchalantly, “I want to do work that I’m proud of. I get immense creative satisfaction when I give my 100 per cent to a project, whether it is a film or
Striking a balance
It might be easy to assume that after getting a break in films, these theatre actors forget their roots and get bitten by the big-screen bug. But that is not the case. Most of them strike a balance between plays and movies. As Das says, “It is tough to divide time between the mediums but I manage. Last July, I was shooting for a film in Delhi during the day and at night, I was flying down to Mumbai for a play. It takes a toll on your body but when good work is coming your way, you should make the most of it.”
Kaul, on his part, says that he likes to focus on one project at a time. He says, “Stage artistes like Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher and Shabana Azmi, who have made it big in films, always continue to do theatre. It is like maa ke haath ka dal chawaal. No matter, how famous you become, you always keep coming back to it for the love of it.”
Two diverse mediums
Stage artistes say in unison that theatre and films are as diverse as chalk and cheese but admit that working in theatre has helped them grow as a film actor. Tiwari says, “Doing a lot of theatre has helped me act better in films.” Roy Kapur elaborates that working in both the mediums is a learning experience. “In theatre, you become more confident, as you perform in front of a live audience. That comes in handy when you work in a film. But otherwise cinema is a different ball game as it involves camera angles, has a larger team and the stakes are higher.”
Kaul maintains that he finds films more exciting, as the medium is more challenging. “Firstly it is completely different from theatre, secondly the logistics are different and thirdly since you shoot in a non-linear way, it is tough to retain the essence of your character for a span of six months or one year,” he adds.
Is it here to stay?
Raj Kumar Gupta, who has cast theatre artistes in his earlier films too such as Aamir and No One Killed Jessica, maintains that with the changing face of cinema, the influx of stage actors in movies will only increase. He says, “Today’s character-driven movies have created a space for theatre actors. I personally like to explore different milieus and want to cast stage artistes who understand those milieus.” Roy Kapur notes pragmatically that till the time theatre is meted out secondary treatment in India, stage actors will continue to do films. He explains, “Abroad, the gap has been bridged between theatre and cinema. Plays run full houses even on a weekday. But that’s not the case here. We still need to cultivate a wider audience for theatre, only then stage actors will be paid more. Till that doesn’t happen, they will act in films to earn more money.”
Kaul, on his part, voices the collective feelings of stage artistes. “As long as good complex roles are written, theatre actors will continue to be cast in them. But we are not complaining. This is easily the best time of our lives,” he concludes.
>> Manav Kaul (38): Fame on stage: Peelescooterwala Aadmi, Park, Lal Pencil
Future projects: Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai opposite Nandita Das
>> Kunaal Roy Kapur (33): Fame on stage: The President Is Coming, One On One
Future projects: Viacom’s Golie And Pappu In The House
>> Anand Tiwari (29): Fame on stage: All About My Mother, Dreams Of Taleem, By George, One On One
Future projects: Shilpa Shetty’s Dhishkhayoon, Oomga
>> Namit Das (28): Fame on stage: Aashad Ka Ek Din, Much Ado About Nothing, Stories In A Song
Future projects: Rajat Kapoor’s as yet untitled film, Ravi Rai’s Maaya, Vanilla and Strawberries