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Vinay Verma

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“Theatre won’t happen by ‘claiming’ ”

Vinay Verma is a theatre activist who has now branched out into films and television. He is also a script writer and voice-over artist for many ad and corporate films. He is the founder of Sutradhar Casting Agency now known simply as Sutradhar. He has acted in over 25 plays and directed about 10. He has worked with the likes of Mani Ratnam, Hollywood great Harvey Keitel, Om Puri and Ramoji Rao. His work has been featured at Nashville International Film Festival, Toronto (2006); all major channels including DD and ETV. He was selected as one of the five prominent citizens of Hyderabad by the popular Hindi magazine Lokmat published from Nagpur.

Q. What got you into theatre?
A. I was pursuing my Master’s in Sociology from University of Hyderabad. There was a Ph.D. student who wanted to cast me in his play, because he liked the arrogance to my walk (smiles). He introduced me to a kurta-clad, jhola-bag gentleman Prof. Bhaskar Shewalkar. I was bitten for life. More than a couple of years later, Sutradhar happened.

Q. What is Sutradhar?
A. Sutradhar is to promote local talent through theatre for theatre. It’s a one-stop-shop for budding actors, voice-over artists, directors, screenplay writers and other stage artists to exhibit their worth. When I was trying to get into theatre I had no springboard. Sutradhar is that springboard.

Q. You had a 9-to-5 day job. What made you jump boats?
A. I thought, it’s one life I got to lead, I want to live my passion. A passion never dies. Theatre is like a bug that bites you, and there is no rehabilitation. You can get rehab only within theatre.

Q. But, is theatre in Hyderabad a sensible career choice?
A. No. You cannot survive only on theatre as an individual. Not just here, but in most of India. It’s another story if you have your own production house, your own sets, crew and touring buses. There are many such theatre ‘groups’ that survive on theatre. Not individuals.

Q. So, did that mean cutting corners in personal life?
A. Yes. In fact, initially there were only corners to live on! But that was only for some time. Things fell in place. There will always be problems in staging productions; all of them vanish if you want to sincerely do theatre. We saw days when there were only 15 or 20 people in the audience. It’s a thorny path.

Q. Wasn’t that disheartening? There isn’t a theatre-sensible audience, people walk in with chips and soft drinks…
A. That is blasphemy to the medium of theatre, but we can’t afford to get disheartened. An actor is trained to follow the script no matter what. We should not play to the galleries. Things are looking better with the media giving theatre its due and more importantly, people noticing theatre. People have responded warmly and not a cell phone rings in a Sutradhar production, there is a 30 – 40 per cent growth in our audience in every production, and people don’t expect complimentary goodies. There are no invitees, everyone is a ticketed audience who pays and comes to watch the play. Let them pay to watch us and then throw bricks at us if they want. Invites use theatre as an excuse to meet.

Q. But what of the elitists who feign knowledge of theatre for social prestige in plush marble lobbies amid cocktail parties?
A. They don’t exist for us. You cannot import plays and stage them at five star hotels with an elite invitees’ list, complimentary drinks and claim that as theatre. That is event management. We are a theatre group, not an event management company. So, such people don’t fit into the scheme of things for us. They want to be seen; not to see.

Q. You are vocal about theatre being vibrant in the city, including your recent open letter M.S. Sathyu.
A. Theatre won’t happen by ‘claiming’. Neither will it happen by doing one play in a year. It’ll happen by performing and there is no dearth of talented actors in the city. In our workshops at Sutradhar, we see doctors, lawyers and professionals from many fields acting. There are many theatre groups in the city doing theatre. Just because they weren’t noticed till now doesn’t mean theatre is ‘dead’. Vernacular theatre too is active but goes unnoticed in small publications only for the fact that they are in Telugu or Marathi or Bengali.

Q. Do you confirm to a certain genre of plays to add a popular appeal to the productions?
A. That is not possible in the medium as your audience is live and varied. You may create conformist art in the other mediums like cinema, but theatre gives you such creative space that there is no question of imbibing populist elements. You go with the script and try to incorporate value through improvisations. Sutradhar does all genres of plays: comedy, political, farce and we were the first group to do an organic play in the city. We do them on the trot.

Q. After having been into the field for over two decades now, do you still get nervous before every show?
A. No artist worth her/his salt will ever claim that s/he has gotten over the jitters. A little bit of uncertainty is a must in every creative field for pushing the performer to his/her best. Every good stage actor is always tentative, complacence is unaffordable.

Q. Are you in support of using theatre to make it to the big screen?
A. Absolutely. An actor is an actor. Theatre is the oldest professional medium and the most live of all media, it can’t be threatened by any medium: TV, Internet or the Big screen. Theatre will live on and doesn’t become untouchable just because you jumped into some other medium. As I said, passions never die. People come back. Theatre shows you the art of living and develops personality. You can’t live on past glories.

Q. What is critically needed for theatre in the city?
A. Firstly, the government must provide infrastructural support to the groups in the city. A few small auditoriums would do. Not all plays can happen at Ravindra Bharati, plays can’t pull that sort of an audience. Secondly, there must be more theatre festivals as opposed to contests. Contests severely limit the creative scope of the participant, s/he will only aim at making a winning entry; not necessarily a great play. Fests are a showcase of pure talent. We need more home-grown productions staged in the city. Thirdly, the city is in dire need of a professional theatre critic. Not merely reports stating such and such a thing happened; we need critiques on the plays in the city, pointing out the professional shortcomings and giving objective appraisals.

People must be taught how to approach theatre to more thoroughly appreciate it.

Comments (1)

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Hi Vinay Sir,

My name is Ramesh Hebbar. I would to participate in your class starting on April 11,2012.
Thanks and Regards,

Ramesh Hebbar
8374 232 120.
Ramesh Hebbar , April 09, 2012

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