Class act for 40 years
Ahead of an event that celebrates Sunil Shanbag's four decades in theatre, colleagues and contemporaries recall the many parts he has played
'A theatre pioneer'
Sunil got involved in theatre when he started working with [the late] Satyadev Dubey, who was doing pioneering work in Hindi, at a time when most plays in Bombay were made in Gujarati and English. Just as Dubey took over the reins from Ebrahim Alkazi when he moved to the National School of Drama in Delhi, Sunil is extending Dubey's legacy.
My association with Sunil goes way back. He acted in Kalyug (1981), and was part of the threesome, along with Atul Tiwari and Shama Zaidi, who wrote for the television series, Bharat Ek Khoj. Sunil's productions always have something new to offer. When you create such excellent work, it goes to show that you are a good people's person, too. He has been deeply involved in working in alternative theatre spaces and finding new talent. And he has done all this tirelessly. Considering that there is no earning from it, it requires you to be hugely motivated. He has sustained that enthusiasm for all these years. Which is why, I call him a theatre pioneer.
Shyam Benegal, critically acclaimed filmmaker
'Paves way for youth'
When you talk of Sunil's work, you have to look at his productions and the deep, meaningful impact he has had on the field of theatre at large. With the creation of Tamaasha Theatre in collaboration with Sapan [Saran], the contribution he has made to the life of young theatre people in Bombay is important.
It's remarkable that somebody with years of experience has teamed up with a young playwright where they both have an equal say because he respects the perspective she brings to the table. What a theatre school would do in other places, he is doing through his work, and now, artiste residencies. What comes out of his work towards the enriching of the next generation will show 10 years down the line.
Sameera Iyengar, co-founder, Junoon
'A great reader of people'
Sunil has played multiple roles in my life — a mentor, a colleague, a friend. He values younger people who are driven and encourages them to realise their potential. His commitment and passion towards theatre is contagious. We have our creative differences, but the fundamentals stand undeterred. He never dismisses ideas and suggestions coming from younger practitioners like me.
He often tells them,"Pair wair mat chhuo; time par aao, aur homework kar ke aao. Bas."He has passed on a Dubey rule to me: After watching any play, it's mandatory to say five good things about it. A great cook, he loves to feed people. Being genuinely interested in people makes him a very good reader of them.
Sapan Saran, co-founder Tamaasha Theatre
'Down to earth'
I have always admired his work. My mother [Nadira Babbar] says that if you have been blessed with an art, your job is to not just entertain. The kind of socially responsible plays Sunil does, speaks volumes about him.
I remember during an edition of the Kala Ghoda Art Festival, someone from my team was supposed to escort him after his play, but she was late. I rushed to the venue to see Sunil standing all by himself. I apologised profusely and he warmly said, 'it's okay.' This down-to-earth way of approaching art and people is a theatre value he upholds.
Juuhi Babbar Sonii, co-founder, Ekjute Group
On: August 28, 6 pm to 8 pm
At: St Andrew's Centre for Philosophy and Performing Arts, Bandra West.
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