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Home Personality Interviews

Personality Interviews

Vinay Verma

“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.

 

Udaya Bhanu

“Society gets the theatre it deserves”

“‘I wish the stage were as narrow as the wire of a tightrope dancer, so that no incompetent would dare step upon it,’ said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,” read out Udaya Bhanu – theatre activist and one of the core members of the theatre group Bhoomika (estd. 1989). Having directed many plays for the group, he is now looking to taking theatre one notch up by focusing on rural talent outside Hyderabad, training them and producing quality theatre.

Mohammad Ali Baig

Mohammad Ali Baig
Man who nurtures Theatre in Hyderabad

 

“Theatre was for the oxidized jewels, bold bindi woman”


Mohammad Ali Baig is an ad and corporate filmmaker by profession with over 300 works in visual media to his credit, for an international clientele including Aditya Birla Group, Hewlett-Packard, Gillette, the United Nations, World Bank  and many Fortune500 companies. As a documentary filmmaker, his work has been showcased at BBC, CNN, Doordarshan and Discovery. He has over 30 national and international awards to his credit and has been the youngest Director on board public limited company Odyssey Video. He heads the company CineWorks India (estd. 1999) and is the President of Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation (estd. 2005) aimed at reviving theatre in Hyderabad.

Q: You don many hats: ad-filmmaker, documentary producer, theatre personality… around which medium does life gyrate for you?
A: I am an ad and corporate filmmaker by profession and my orientation is moving images. I enjoy the challenge of telling a story in 30 second that would otherwise take three hours to narrate. What I do for theatre is as a tribute to my father, Qadir Ali Baig. Theatre is stifling to me because of the high benchmarks that have been set by my father and my brother Moin Baig who is into serious theatre. In ads, I can have a ball! I am a free man and more footloose. I don’t have to live up to an image and I have scope to fiddle around with the medium. If I do mess up an ad, God forbid, it will be because of Mohammad Ali Baig and no one else. But what I do to promote theatre is for dad and I do it with sanctity in mind.

Q: Do you think there is a theatre culture in our country to make theatre a viable professional choice beyond the confines of the social elite?
A: There are enough opportunities in India if one seriously wants to make a living out of it. Viable theatre is there in Mumbai, Kolkata, Manipur and even other places whether or not we know of them. There are people making their bread and butter solely out of theatre. What is needed is a serious pursuit of the art. If theatre is used as a stepping stone to television or films and people shy away from putting in serious commitment then don’t blame theatre. Don’t sacrifice it by having pretences of wanting to pursue theatre when the ultimate aim is to be a silver screen icon.

Q: Through initiatives like ‘Heritage Theatre’ and the ‘Celebrating Theatre’ series, what is your final vision for the art in the city?
A: The final objective is to make theatre an acceptable form of meaningful entertainment. To have no target audience either elitist or the new generation, but a cross-section of the society. For everyone from 16 to 40 above to enjoy theatre it is necessary that it is presented in a format that is palatable. I use the term because not all audience is intellectual or an initiated one. I say this because my brother’s theatre, I dare say, is over the top – very intellectual. (smiles) There are times even I can’t fully appreciate it. I am aiming at what dad did: a rightful mix of art and commerce.

Q: And how has the response been to this revivalist movement?
A: Three years ago, theatre was discarded as a dead medium. Our first show, Aparajita had 350 audience strength, up to 800 on our last show on a weekday. Earlier people would give theatre a miss because it was their niece’s birthday or driver’s wedding; theatre was only for the oxidized jewellery, bold bindi and Kalamkari sari woman: highbrow and intense. Hum Log scored over a night at a drama. Today, we perform to a fullhouse for five shows in a row for Taramati, His Exalted Highness saw a turnout of over 1,100. And we are not selling on star-power or free mocktails alone. Everyone comes because they can relate. When every type of entertainment is available at a feather touch of a remote, people come and spend two or three hours of their lives with us: professional theatre is being appreciated.

Q: It is said, for a medium to find full expression, it requires an equally mature audience. With films like Water entering the Academy awards as a Canadian entry and Parzania facing blanket or selective ban, while pelvic thrusts are celebrated; where are we heading as a creative industry?
A: (smiles) We have a cultural problem. We must understand the ethos of our peoples. In a country of one billion, there are enough per centages of audience for every kind of film. It is easy to blame the audience for the mediocrity of one’s own work. Not that the audience asks for a vulgar item number in every movie. The question is: can I sell my conscience for an extra buck? It is not to say that there must be no popular appeal to good art. The populist element is a must to make an art form popular, but not at the cost of the integrity of the art form.

Q: Do you think there is a government apathy or political unwill to promote theatre and arts in India?
A: The government has done a lot; can do a lot more. One auditorium in a city in the name of Tagore does not spell promoting culture. The Department of Culture grants us Rs.10,000 for a production and one day at the auditorium to perform. Which is to say that all the artists have to be there on that day. 10,000 doesn’t even cover their travel costs. The Department of Tourism has given us encouraging patronage though: Taramati and Raat Phoolon Ki were done in partnership with the tourism department who sanctioned them. It all depends on who is sitting at the helm of the department. If it is someone who has an orientation toward culture, he/she would do a fine job. If it’s just another babu…
We need collaboration between the government organs and private institutes. The Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation recently tied up with the National School of Drama for a three-week summer workshop which was a huge success. Such symbioses help.

Q: Is visual media industry solely talent-driven, or does a casting couch or godfather helps?
A: When I entered, I had no godfather in the industry. Maybe it’s partly true. There may be a casting couch; but you never know. If it exists, it exists in every field, not just the media. Times have changed. Women in the industry are educated and intellectually independent enough not to need a male shoulder to rise. Moreover, a producer or a director works on his/her reputation. No one wants it marred because of some stray casting couch incident. Coming to godfathers, you see the biggest names in any field; they are all there without godfathers. Hard work paid. Work equations have drastically changed and there are more people pulling you down than giving you a hitch. The ones closest are the most dangerous.

Q: ‘Rockumentary’ won you two international accolades: the Golden Asters at the Osaka Film Festival in Japan. What is it about?
A: It is about the natural rockscapes in and around Hyderabad. Narendra Luther, former chief secretary of the tourism department did the background research and made the proposal. Such rockscapes are found only on two places on earth: Australia and the Deccan plateau. Mr. Luther co-produced the film. It has no human actor; just rocks. The then Sunday Times called it: ‘Sheer Poetry on Celluloid’.

Q: Finally, whom would you rate as your favourite documentary and ad filmmaker?
A: It may surprise you, but I hardly watch documentaries or even television for that matter. I generally appreciate all National Geographic documentaries without looking at the credits, for the fear of being biased. Some of them are debutants and each one outdoes the one before. Also, I have never assisted anyone in ad filmmaking; I usually call the shots for directors twice my age whose experience is more than my age! It has been an accusation of the media that I’ve worked only with stalwarts. But, it is so because either that we share a great professional relationship or that they are friends of my father’s. No one would work with me for the love of my face. It has been a disadvantage having worked with such greats as Shyam Benegal, Girish Karnad, MS Sathyu and Mani Ratnam, because then I can’t hire any cast and crew of a lower caliber! I work with people who have set for themselves certain professional benchmarks. Some call it egotism or arrogance; but I have to share a mutually respectful professional and personal relationship with the people I work with.

Nagarjuna Akkineni

Nagarjuna Akkineni

Interview with a hearthrob of many a Telugu women

 

Meeting up with him, why, even chatting with NAGARJUNA over the phone, is an experience far removed from the usual one of film star vs. journalist. Nag is always unfailingly polite arid warm..... you get an instant sense of welcome as you just pick off where you left off never mind if that was a few months ago! Truly, the Last of the Gentlemen! Unfortunately, such is the BO roulette wheel, that he seems to have hit a low patch of late, but I surely speak for all his well-wishers when I pray that the sun sets soon on this phase. Nag on Nagarjuna...

Q. So what’s responsible for the current low ebb in your career?

Answer : (laughs heartily) Is there a low ebb in my career? It happens. Up and down, up and down. It’s not the first time. I like to take a little risk, which is not always accepted by the people. But its the choice I make. Sometimes -when it pays off! - people say, ‘path breaking movies’ - Ofcourse, the price we pay is heavy. If the movie is a flop, career goes down, money doesn’t come in. But it is exciting in a way.....to take risks, do things others haven’t done. Right from the beginning, I started off like this.

Q. Why is it that the Telugu film industry doesn’t really take any gambles with their scripts, unlike say, Malayalam films?

Answer : See, the Malayalam film industry, their films are very different from the rest of the country. Almost every family in Kerala is educated, trained in some art form. Its their culture, so you can’t really compare. If we can’ t make their kind of films, they can’t really make our kind of films either. Here, a movie like Shiva or Geetanjali - that kind of script hasn’t come again.

Q. Do you think having a huge image can be detrimental in its own way?

Answer : It is a major problem - when the image is bigger than the star. From the producers and the distributors point of view, I have to consider the image thing too. They also expect certain things. I don’t have complete freedom as an artiste. Definitely. Knowing the pulse of the audience is the most difficult thing. You just can’t dictate that. Not here, not in Hollywood, not anywhere. We call it ‘organized chaos’! It falls into place - sometimes. We all make mistakes.

Q. So is the ‘camp’ system prevalent in the Telugu film industry?

Answer : Not really. Camp system was there, but quite a while back. It’s a very healthy attitude today, Maybe the producers are comfortable with us, or whatever, but there are others who’ve worked with Chiranjeevi, Venky, Balakrishna, me, There are very few roles that an actor can talk about in his lifetime. How many scripts are there, the same six songs, family sentiments. I have done roles like Chiranjeevi and Venky, and vice versa. At the most, I can change my hairstyle or my clothes!

Q. What if You weren’t an actor...

Answer : I have no idea. That’s the reason I got into films! I am a Mechanical Engineer, I tried pursuing that as a profession when I was in America, but things just didn’t work out. I guess its called Destiny. Today, if I find something more interesting, I’ll quit films.

Q. How do you handle the gossip that is the necessary baggage of a high profile person?

Answer : A long time ago, it used to bother me. Especially when someone gets hurt. See, what happens is.....you and me are good friends. Someone twists it, and somewhere along, you and me start feeling awkward. A barrier builds up. Yes, the Bombay Press has written more, and the Deccan Chronicle lifts it off from there. Its fine, Deccan Chronicle has to survive too - it’s either me or Chandrababu Naidu they write about!

Q. Is it easier then, to be married to someone from the same profession?

Answer : I think any intelligent, secure person should understand. If they don’t have trust, if they’re not happy, then all these problems come up. I’ve seen lots of families who are very happy, where the husband is an actor or director, or the wife is from films, Even if they’re not from films, any other profession - they find a balance somewhere, they are secure in their relationship. Emotions never mature. They remain the same.

Nitin Mitta

Nitin Mitta

A Master in the making

An exclusive Interview with the budding tabla maestro Nitin Mitta.

"After the vilambit, performed without the tabla, Nitin joined the maestro - Pt.Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, for the drut, and he was a revelation! From the likelihood of going home without playing, Nitin got a chance to play a tabla solo when a string on Bhatt's Mohan Veena snapped. When Bhatt came back, he had heard enough to play a jugalbandi with the young man". The concert then continued for one full hour after that.

Nitin Mitta, a young, talented, ever-smiling artist of our own Hyderabad, is all set now to make it big with the new boost he got by recently playing with Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the world renowned, Grammy award winner. In a tête-à-tête with him, he tells us how it all started and who were the people behind the success.

Q. Hello Nitin! Now that you are better known especially after your performance with the great maestro, can you tell us how it all began?

Answer : "I started my formal tabla classes at the age of 5. That was when my parents forecasted for me. They tell me that I used play on the table, without any hesitations, even when I was 4-5 years old. It all started as a hobby. My uncle Sri.M.Janardhan, famous Sitarist and a disciple of the great Pt. Ravishanker used to encourage me whenever he was here in vacations and occasionally I used to play Tabla with him at home".

Q. So you mean, you did not have any mentor to walk you up or someone who could make it easy for you to grow up in your profession selected?

Answer : "I was like any other child", recalls Nitin, "I used to play cricket, shy away from studies - and why just that, even music was not so appealing to me then. I used to practice quite irregularly."

"The turning point, if I may call it, was from this TV serial called "Sadhana" - which featured various classical artists. One of the episodes was featured on Ustad Zakir Hussain, this was when I was 15 years old. The episode inspired me so much, that I decided now, on what I have to become in my life. I started practicing rigorously after this incident even without anybody prompting me to. My parents supported me a lot in developing into what I am today".

Q. Now that we are already into it, can you give us an insight into who your teachers are?

Answer : "My first Guru was Sri. Satyanarayana Garu. I was nine years old then. It was him who I mostly attribute all my successes to. I used to go to him quite regularly, discussing about the intricacies of the traditional classical music. Especially more so, after I was awarded an eight year Scholarship for the promotion of classical arts & subsequently a National Scholarship for two years with a further extension of another 2 years to it. This gave me a nice opportunity to mingle with many other budding artists of my age group, talk to them, discuss various aspects of music as they perceive.

My next Guru was Pt. Sri. Arvind Mulgaonkar from Mumbai, inciden-tally he and my first Guru, both were disciples of the same Guru Ustad Sri Amir Hussain Khan saheb and thus both of them were Guru Bhai - that's what we call it! This also helped me to maintain the same Gharana. Now on a regular basis I go to Mumbai to continue my training there."

Q. Can you recall on your first stage performance?

Answer : "My first stage performance was for the Madras Doordarshan. I accompanied my uncle Sri M.Janardhan in a recording. Then I performed in Colombo for the Muthu Krishnan Mission, during the navarathri time. I also performed in Germany, England, Finland and Paris apart from the various stage performances in India."

Q. Can you name a few artists whom you accompanied on stage performance?

Answer : "I accompanied quite a few legendary artists - Sri R.Vishweshwaran, Pt. Sri Jasraj, Pt. Sri Ullas Bapat, Sri Gaurav Majumdar and Pt. Sri Vishwa Mohan Bhatt are a few names with whom I had a privilege of performing. Every time I perform with one of them, I get to learn a new lesson. It is an experience every time!"

Q. How far do you see yourself from the success flag post? Are you soon going to be there?

Answer : "Playing Tabla or for that matter any instrument is not a great deal. Anybody can do it if he undergoes a year of training. What matters is the particular style in which you play the instrument & derivation of what the audiences are willing to listen to. That's where an ordinary instrumentalist is different from an Ustad. It's very simple, all of us learn the alphabets A to Z and would have undergone equivalent schooling but then one becomes a doctor, one becomes an engineer and one other becomes a businessman. It all finally is dependant on the individual, what he perceives to be is right and the best for his life. I still have a long way to go and I am constantly working on it."

Hard work, zeal, will power and a desire to make it big - one can see all these in Nitin. His ambitions are not unachievable because, a lot of them have done it in the past. However, it is only time that matters. We wish him good luck in achieving his goals soon and hope that we get to hear more of that quality music from him quite often.

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