Once upon a time, one of my mentors told me, “Theatre is not just an art form, it’s a way of life. It reflects in the choices you make- artistic and otherwise, it challenges you to think and in the process you realize- it’s not just about making a play but much more than that.”

In my brief theatre journey, I have had many such encounters with some amazing theatrewallahs (my not-so-conventional Gurus) whose personality and commitment to the craft have inspired me and continue to do so. And unlike The Beatles, when I find myself in times of trouble, instead of Mother Mary, its their words of wisdom that come handy!

I am sure all of us have our own share of such teachers and their words of gyaan that have echoed in our mind and impacted our learning. On the occasion of Teachers Day, we celebrate this beautiful tradition of learning and growing by reaching out to 9 passionate theatre artists. We ask them to flip pages of their theatre diary and share with us memories of people they would like to call ‘My Theatre Guru’.

Akarsh Khurana on Quasar Thakore Padamsee

I owe a lot of my choices to my father and the choices he made. But my theatre journey as a producer and director had an independent start via Thespo. I have always looked at Quasar as some sort of a mentor. I remember the second play I did for Thespo, despite great prep, our show was a disaster. I was feeling very defeated, and wondering how everything had gone wrong. During the interval Q came to me and said, “Things go wrong all the time in theatre. That’s the nature of the beast. Don’t give up.”

Somewhere, unknowingly, that almost became a mantra for the last two decades of running my own company. The mishaps are an integral part of the process. Take them in your stride and you’ll be fine.

Tushar Pandey talks about Keval Arora

Keval Arora! The biggest lesson I’ve learnt from him is to keep searching for new questions in your practise. Otherwise you’ll be too comfortable and that will be far from where the creativity resides! This has been my driving force each time I create a performance and I usually stop performing it when I don’t have something new to add to it.

Bhavna Pani and her mentor Naseeruddin Shah

I was once struggling with a beat in a complex dialogue of Aurat Aurat Aurat (an essay by Ismat Chughtai) and I expressed my inability to process it, to the director, Mr. Naseeruddin Shah (who I consider to be my theatre guru). He turned around and said to me “Bhavna, there aren’t any bad actors… There are just lazy actors.”

This simple, yet profound statement was a turning point in my journey. No hurdle is insurmountable. We just need to trust the process. Even today I see Naseer Sir, reading his scripts, doing his lines every single day. Sometimes even rattling it off to his cat Buddhu in the mornings. He is my teacher and my textbook, to my craft and life.

Sunil Shanbag remembers Satyadev Dubey

“Your time is done here. As long as you stay with me I will always get credit for your work. Go out and do your own work. Take credit for your success, and responsibility for your failures”        –Satyadev Dubey while throwing us out of this theatre company in 1985!

Preetika Chawla on Team Rage 

My theatre guru is the three headed monster of love at Rage: Shernaz, Rajit and Rahul. They lead by example and they make every show with equal amounts of talent, love, generosity and food! They taught me that if I want to make a successful show, the top most important thing is to have a well fed crew!

Danish Husain remembers Habib Tanvir

Once we were rehearsing for Habib Tanvir’s play Agra Bazaar. One actor was just not getting his entry right. He’d deliberately do something to attract attention to his entry. After a while, Habib saheb got frustrated and said the key to a good performance on stage is to get one’s entry and exit right, and in between deliver one’s line with confidence. An actor can get away by speaking gibberish provided if spoken confidently. What must never break is the spell the actor creates on the stage. And spell doesn’t mean attracting attention, spell means dovetailing into the story’s arch, maintaining the play’s integrity. That lesson has forever remained with me!

Parna Pethe talks about Atul Pethe & Mohit Takalkar

I’m not a trained actor but have been fortunate to have some people who I can call my theatre gurus. Mohit Takalkar– my first director, enriched my understanding and gave me a world view of theatre, his processes are detailed and beautiful. Atul Pethe introduced me to an unexplored audience and nurtured my socio-political understanding and language of theatre. Other people who inspire me are Nimmy Raphael, Jyoti Dogra, Vinay Kumar, Atul Kumar and Moloyashree Hashmi.

Khushbu Baid on Puja Sarup

I would consider Puja Sarup my theatre guru and mentor! She taught me improv at the Drama School Mumbai. After a bad improv session, she’d always say “Its just one of those days. And it’s absolutely okay to fail!”

Till today, before narrating my scripts, I find myself uttering these words. It helps me power through my anxiety and fear and above all have fun while creating work. 

Saudamini Kalra talks about Daniel Goldman

I don’t really have one guru, but when I was just starting out I was part of a production in which our director Daniel Goldman once told us that a good actor must “try to be fuckable on stage”. It’s always stayed with me. It may seem superficial at first but I think it speaks about something deeper, about letting yourself feel desires and show vulnerability in a way that one craves for in the theatre.

Isn’t it fascinating to see that in the world of the theatre we keep juggling different hats sometimes directing our teachers and other times working as colleagues and in all this- we all learn from each other! Toh yahaan guru kaun aur student kaun?

But many times learning in such a supposedly non-hierarchical and democratic process, we are bound to relook and reinvent ways of teaching and learning and that remains an ongoing conversation. But today, we celebrate the work of all those who we call our mentors, facilitators, teachers or Gurus, this is your day and we thank you for what you do, a very Happy Teachers Day!

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