According to a recent statistic “Indians are online today, more than ever” so could Roti, Kapda aur Netflix be one of the new normals? Think about it! With Paatal Lok (Amazon Prime) topping the list, we have recently seen some amazing content sprawling the OTT. Shows like Panchayat (Amazon Prime), Bamfaad (Zee5), Cubicles (TVF), Taj Mahal 1989 (Netflix) and movies like Choked (Netflix) and Chintu Ka Birthday (Zee5) have hooked us to our screens.

The upsurge in new content on OTT platforms has surely made our lockdown days less boring! With finishing that ‘Watch Later’ list many of us are religiously waiting for new content.

While a common thread in these path-breaking, binge-worthy shows is good writing, one cannot ignore powerful performances that elevate and enhance the script. Ever wondered where these gems of actors come from? Jim Sarbh, Kalki Koechlin, Ira Dubey, Vinay Pathak, Priyanshu Painyuli, Sumeet Vyas and Mithila Palkar are just few of the many actors who come from a rich background in theatre and have today become OTT superstars.

With the advent of new content and creators who are willing to take risks with unconventional stories, many actors have found their due fame and spotlight. We asked them about their theatre journey and how their theatre background helped them perform in other
mediums.

Ishwak Singh

Last play – Final Solutions and Court Martial (2018)

The latest entrant to this illustrious list and everyone’s favorite Imran Ansari aka Ishwak Singh shares that “Acting remains acting regardless of the medium- be it stage, screen, or street- these are just different environments and ecosystems. The process of developing a character remains the same for me whether I am in front of the camera or on stage. However, theatre helps in building a work ethic and discipline. It provides a certain rigor and method to the madness”

Still from Final Solutions | Source: Arvind Gaur

Srishti Srivastava

Last Play- A Bone of Contention in a Cosmopolitan Cooperative Housing Society (2019)

Srishti Srivastava, our Gulabo Sitabo girl is the OG internet sensation thanks to her popular stint with Girliyapa. While she continues to have an exciting career in film (Gully Boy, OK Jaanu) and web (Girls Hostel, PA-gals) Srishti often captivates us with her theatre performances. A regular actor in the Mumbai theatre circuit she says “I perform on stage for the sheer joy of it. I might sound cheesy but (theatre) training is the only thing that’s helped me till now and I know it will stay with me in all the work I do in the future. When I joined The Drama School Mumbai, I was surprised with the kind of rigor and discipline it required. But out of all the methods and techniques that were taught to us, one thing that is still with me is my riyaaz. If it’s theatre, television or film, riyaaz is constant.”

Still from Shikhandi | Source: Fats Thearts

Abhishek Chauhan

Last play – Photocopy (2019)

“Theatre training gave me the guided environment where I could do, explore and clock. My training didn’t directly equip me for camera based mediums but it surely did prepare me for that journey” says Abhishek Chauhan who stole hearts with his endearing performance in TVF Cubicles. Psst…Pal Wohi Hai plays in the background. Listen to this beautiful creation by Karthik Rao, if you still haven’t.

Still from Hello Farmaish | Source: Aadyam

Niharika Lyra Dutt

Last play – Fistful of Rupees (2019)

Niharika Lyra Dutt shared screen with her mentor Neeraj Kabi in AmazonPrime’s Paatal Lok and when we asked her about her experience she said, “He was a very encouraging and giving co-actor. Constantly breaking the ice by cracking terrible jokes. Not that many people knew that I was to act with him, but I would constantly come across people singing his praises, as an actor, as a teacher, as a person…It was almost like the universe was telling me that you’re going up against a great actor, you better pull up your socks.”

And perhaps her theatre training was of immense help. She adds, “I think theatre teaches you a lot, because you spend the maximum time refining your craft. Theatre taught me to be in the moment. That no matter what, the show goes on! There’s an audience and you can’t break character. That helps tremendously with screen- to be able to hold on to a mood, no matter how many takes you go for.”

Still from Chuhal | Source: aRanya Theatre

Nidhi Bisht

Last Play- A Bone of Contention in a Cosmopolitan Cooperative Housing Society (2019)

The creative director of TVF and super-chill Nidhi Bisht is one of the few examples of an actor who had a theatre-wapsi after massive success in web series and cinema. When we spoke to her about her crazy journey she said, “Itne saalo baad waapsi ka reason pure love hai. It’s like I came back to my first lover after being away on a mission for long. Miss kar rahi thi…the energy, the high of being on stage, the rehearsals…the pure joy of creation waali feeling!

Theatre has been my school for acting, writing, and direction. I have never learnt acting from a school but during college I got to work with a lot of theatre directors having different styles. Those experiences, continued during my Mumbai theatre stint and it helped me through my basics.”

 

While there is a certain notion that actors use theatre as a stepping stone for Bollywood, we have had many stalwarts in Indian theatre who have often worked in different mediums and yet continued their journey with theatre.

Neeraj Kabi

As Neeraj Kabi puts it “My relationship with theatre today is the same as it was when I was very actively involved with theatre. This relationship is that of a parent and child. You can never let go off it, if you wish to grow.”

Sacred Games, the more recent Paatal Lok and Taj Mahal 1989 are enduring and memorable examples of Neeraj’s talent and testament to the magic only a theatre actor can bring on screen!

Still from Macbeth | Source: Ranga Shankara

Geetanjali Kulkarni

Also seen in Taj Mahal 1989 as Neeraj’s dotting wife alongside Gullak and Selection Day is the exceptionally gifted actor Geetanjali Kulkarni. Talking about her long and dynamic relationship with performing on stage she said, “Theatre is my base. It’s my teacher. I like the process of rehearsal. I love to perform shows. We have completed more than two hundred shows of Piya Behrupiya and still I enjoy performing it. Also, I am associated with a project called Goshtarang where we perform Children‘s literature for schools in rural and tribal areas of Maharashtra. So, the relationship with theatre is still strong and I practice it.”

On being asked about facets from her theatre training that she uses in other mediums, the NSD graduate said, “The main aspect is the process. To research, practice and the desire to perform.”

Still from Gajab Kahaani | Source: Aadyam

Internationally acclaimed casting-director Tess Joseph has been a forerunner in casting theatre actors for Netflix and Amazon Prime. We picked her brains to know more about her experience.

“A good actor who knows how to adapt between the two mediums always shines through! I have found that actors who emerged from theatre have a certain dedication to skill and craft which is commendable. Their commitment to learn a script, dialogue, build character is often noteworthy. Yet theatre actors need to remember that screen testing is a differently nuanced performance. Adaptability is key! Theatre actors must not forget that screen testing is intimate, be aware of physicality and that the more real and invisible you are for camera – the better your test will be…” she said and we couldn’t agree more.

The OTT platforms today are doing what our television could have done many years ago. We are living in times where we have an abundance of new platforms for budding talent! But we
mustn’t forget that the OTT stardom we have today, shouldn’t be taken for granted. We didn’t reach here overnight.

Our history is full of brilliant actors from the theatre who back in the day were either reduced to bad work in television or were given easily forgettable and often caricaturist character roles in Indian cinema. Lilette Dubey, Satish Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah, Neena Gupta, Supriya Pathak are just few names out of whole list of actors who back then didn’t have the opportunities we have today and were thus underutilized in the ‘prime’ of their career.

While we look at a new generation of actors and internet-stars, we notice that theatre not only allows them to work on their craft but also develop skills and values systems that would be immensely useful in the long run. This could also be cue for content creators to dig deeper into the goldmine of theatre and bring out new ideas, unexplored formats and riveting stories.

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