As Kumud Mishra starrer Ramsingh Charlie starts streaming, revisiting an interview done in the past with the actor, talking about his work on stage.
Kumud Mishra is currently the finest and most versatile actor on the city’s stage—appearing in plays like Shakkar Ke Paanch Daane, Peele Scooterwala Aadmi, Cotton 56 Polyester 84, Bali Aur Shambhu, Turel, Ilhaam, Aisa Kehte Hain, Flirt in your Dreams, The Owl and the Pussycat, Dhumrapaan.
Kumud studied at the National School of Drama, did theatre in Bhopal before moving to Mumbai to work in television. However, his association with writer-director Manav Kaul resulted in a rich haul of theatrical work.
“My father is an armyman and I studied at the military school in Belgaum. It so happened that there was a lot of theatre activity in the school, competitions between the various ‘houses’ and performances at the annual day. It was a great environment for talent to flourish. So when I was leaving school I was asked whether I wanted to be in the army and I said, ‘Nahin theatre karna hai’. Now when I look back, I sometimes think my parents would have been happier if I had gone
into the army. Then, in Bhopal I did a lot of plays with a lot of directors—in fact I broke the rule of one actor being affiliated with one group, because I worked with everybody.”
About the NSD an his other batchmates he says, “Of the known ones—Ashutosh Rana, Mukesh Tiwari, Yashpal Sharma, Shrivardhan Trivedi who is the bearded guy on the TV show Sansani. I think, in life you get what you want, I got what I wanted from the NSD. I learned a lot, I also fought and questioned everything. Then Dubeyji (Satyadev Dubey) came to the NSD, I didn’t take panga with him, because I wanted to work with him. What I am today, I owe a lot to him. Now I realize that as a student, even if you don’t agree with something, it Is still an experience and you have to be a part of that process. Actors start getting into a comfort zone very soon—whether it’s the mind, body or heart—and they resist whoever tries to draw them out of it.
“After 14 years I can be objective about the NSD years. There is scope for improvement, but still it gives you a lot of I it is up to you to imbibe it. In reality your training starts after you pass out. Because one journey ends there, but a lot
of people don’t realize that and continue to live in the past and theatre lives in the present. I joined the NSD Repertory and quit after ten days. It was like going
from one institution to another. I would have got a salary and a comfortable milieu, but I didn’t want that. Meanwhile Dubeyji asked me to come to Bombay to audition for Shyam Benegal’s The Making of the Mahatma. I borrowed money from a friend and came here. I don’t think I have returned it yet. I stayed at the PMGP colony and though I didn’t get the role I decided to stay.
“The PMGP colony is a place full of strugglers, and there is a romance about it. I had come to stay with my NSD friend Sanjay Jha who is now a filmmaker. Turned out he had gone to his village, but others saw me standing on the road and took me in. Then I started doing three television serials for Plus Channel, but the fact is TV did not excite me much, except for the money. Unfortunately I am not the kind who goes out and meets people, so everybody got the impression that I am not interested in TV. But I do want to do a serial or two so that I can continue to do theatre.
“In Bombay the theatre scene is very exciting—there are all kinds of plays happening from commercial to middle of the road to experimental and there is space for everybody. Here an actor can do just acting, in Delhi I might have become a director or started conducting workshops. Delhi people come here and dismiss Bombay theatre and feel they did better work. They are living in the past—at one time even I wanted to do Rashomon because I had acted in an excellent production, but theatre is not memory, it is what your mind and body demands NOW.”
In one of his plays, Turel, he played a woman, and he recalls his he approached this part. “It was ambitious and we didn’t have enough time to rehearse. At that time I was also busy learning 50-70 pages of Dubeyji’s play in English, so I am not sure if worked very well. But I had always wanted to play a woman on stage and explore a new experience. I almost did play a female character in Arre Mayavi Sarovar. But then I got cast as the king and missed the chance. There is an incident I remember, I was playing the Brihannala (which was Arjun in female garb) in a play
called Panch Ratra. And jut before going on stage, my wig was misplaced. I was irritated and panicky and just in time it was found and I felt I reached a level on stage that I hadn’t managed before. There is still so much about ourselves we don’t know, so much to explore.
Today, both Kumud and Manav Kaul have successful careers in cinema, but they had a very successful working partnership on the stage. “I used to do theatre in Bhopal, and Manav started work after me, and he knew of me. When I came to Mumbai, and started working in TV. My house had become like an adda. Four or five of us started working with Satyadev Dubey. Then gradually the others went away and Manav was left. He used to write really good poetry. I enjoyed his poems, and then I heard one of them and told him it was a performance piece. It has so
much drama. He said, If he turned it into a play, I would have to act in it. I agreed and that’s how Shakkar Ke Paanch Daane came about. And then we worked together on a lot of plays. What is exciting for an actor working with Manav is that he is always coming up with something new, and the condition is that what has been done before will not be repeated. That gives an actor no chance to get bored. His guideline is, “Yeh nahin karenge.” And that is a challenge for me. He has also evolved as a director with each play, because he approached each new one without any baggage of his past work. The yardstick again was not to repeat anything. So for me as an actor, I never know what to expect.
“I will give you an example of his methods. For instance, while doing Ilhaam, he told me not to use my hands. It is a very difficult thing to do. Some actors cannot act without their hands. Somehow, memory is connected to the hands, and the actor can forget his lines if he can’t use his hands. I do it because I don’t mind experiencing failure. We are friends, but the minute he comes up with something, the actor-director tension starts. Sometimes I don’t want to act, but in the end I acknowledge that the process is not important, the director is most important. An actor should not go with baggage to every play, so it is not difficult for me, even if I work with an inept director. Or someone like Dubey who would say “Aise hi bolo.” Some actors would have a problem with that. But I don’t question him, I surrender completely. I have to find a way in every situation, or I would end up working only with Manav.
“Actors are a badmaash lot. They have their own logic. To me, experience is very dangerous for an actor. I will give you an example. When Sunil Shanbag called me for Cyclewala, I had not done any theatre for over a year. He offered me a very small role of a bandit. Another actor had the bigger role. I did ask myself why I was doing it. My ego was hurt because I believed I was meant for lead roles. But then I asked myself if I was afraid of failure, of having my co-actors say that I couldn’t even do a small role properly. And I have never enjoyed a play as much. When I got the first laughter from the audience, I was elated—as if I had won a match. There was an exquisite pleasure in starting from zero. An actor should not carry any baggage, otherwise, like so many film stars, he can become a clone of himself. It is important not to repeat yourself. And it is important not to keep drawing on experience and memory. When I do Shakkar now, it is different from when I did it earlier. The character is the same, but if I play a young man with the memory of
how I was when I was young, it will ring false. I can play the same character even when I am 60, but I cannot play it with a memory of youth, because my perception of youth will be different.
Does he think the audience perceives all these minute details? “I don’t think so. They react simply on whether something works or not. The audience can’t be blamed for not understanding. If they don’t like what you are doing, accept that there is a problem. If they don’t like it, that does not mean it is bad, but you should be aware if what you have done. You must have the ability to judge yourself, then there will be no place for misunderstanding.”
(The still is from the play Dhumrapaan)