Sharing the stage and
a surname,these theatre artistes let us in on
their experiences and
the benefits that come with having a close
kin in your corner
By Rashmi Rajagopal
SEASONED thespians like Arundhati, Anant and the late Shankar Nag, Arundhati and Jagdish Raja, and the Belwadis and Sens made theatre a family affair back in the day. “I met my husband, Shankar, only because of theatre. I can’t remember a time when we weren’t doing anything related to the stage,” begins Arundathi Nag. “The good thing is the extra support and understanding you receive. When my sister, Pinty, joined theatre, she’d accompany me on rehearsals and help out, which was a great,” she reveals. Arundhati Raja agrees. “It’s a plus because productions keep you busy. But when you have your family working with you, it’s easier to spend time together,” she points out, adding, “Though sometimes it also becomes a bit of a drag because you’re always discussing work and it’s hard to tune off even when you’re not at rehearsals.” The trend continues to the present, though Raja believes it’s on the decline, with an increasing number of artistes striking it on their own. We round up a few from the latest crop of theatre artistes who share the stage with close family.
Anurag and Sejal Maheswari
Relatively new to the world of theatre, Anurag co-founded the group, Mad Hats, with Puneeth Gupta, after dabbling in short films and being part of other outfits for a while. His wife, Sejal, on the other hand was no stranger to the stage when they met, being a trained Kathak dancer with quite a number of performances under her belt. “It helps that we have each other as sounding boards for our respective activities at home after work. So even though we are employed full time, we can keep the production work going throughout the week, after office,” explains Anurag, a software engineer with a degree from IIT Delhi. The couple has worked together in all three of Mad Hats’ productions till date, which are Snakes and Ladders, Guilty as (Not) Charged and the most recent, Where Cookies Tell Fortunes. “Arundhati Raja commended us for our production quality after watching Where Cookies Tell Fortunes. That was really encouraging,” shares Sejal, a brand strategy / marketing consultant by profession.
Anurag believes that a successful artiste must have the desire to try something new and keep challenging oneself, stay grounded and enjoy everything that comes with it. Recalling one of his experiences, he says, “On the final day of rehearsals for Where Cookies Tell Fortunes, after some run-throughs, the director decided that it was time to let our hair down. The sound system was quickly arranged and a dance party followed! It was such a spur-of-the-moment thing that helped take the pressure off, since typically everyone is tense about upcoming shows.”
While the couple thoroughly enjoys performing at Jagriti Theatre and Ranga Shankara, they fantasise about staging a show at the Taj Mahal under a full moon.
Pics: Vinod Kumar T and Jurish Nath
Kanika: Starlight Express — An amazing rock musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, all done on roller skates
Kanika: West End Theatre in London. I think this
is where I saw my very first musical
What I love
most about theatre
Rakesh: The light! Getting under
the lights and connecting with the audience
An internship at the Supreme Court of London marked the beginning of Kanika Batra’s career, a promising way to start one’s practice. But the 28-year old returned to India to continue acting. Following in the footsteps of her father, Rakesh, Kanika’s first performance was in Angelina, a children’s play. Written and directed by Rakesh, Kanika recalls that she was eight when it debuted. “We travelled with it to different Indian cities, and within three years, did 27 shows,” she recounts. This set the tone for an exciting career in theatre, backed by the strong support
and expertise of her father.
Apart from Angelina, the other production they fondly recall working together on is Let’s Talk About Love, directed by Saad Khan with music by Grammy winning Ricky Kej; Sandeep Boniface and Aaron D’Souza. “It’s great to work together because it’s nice to have a family member who sees the sweat that goes into a production and so is more understanding at home,” Rakesh points out. “The disadvantage is you can’t be as naughty as perhaps you would have been if your father was not at every rehearsal. Just kidding, it’s fun having him around,” says Kanika
in return, and narrates the highlight of one of her latest performances. “In The Threepenny Opera, we had a scene where two of us girls had to fight over a man. Ashish Sen, the director, gave us freedom to execute the scene our way. It was a riot! We were spitting oranges at each other, smacking each other, pulling each other’s hair and clothes.”
Rakesh lists Jagadish Raja’s Square Root of Minus One and The Open Couple by Ashish Sen as two of his favourite productions till date. But with a movie in which they’ll be starring together in the works, we’re sure this duo has a lot more in store.
What we love
Puneet: Being able to create a memorable experience for the audience, a set of people you don’t even know! The thrill of seeing your vision come to life on stage. The journey you undertake with your
team to make it happen
Qualities of success
Puneet: Attention to detail. Those little touches that lead to
an immersive experience for the audience
Sweta: Ms Meena by Perch/Rafiki
Like Anurag, Puneet too took to theatre pretty late, when he was doing his masters in The University of Maryland in America. After he moved to India, he took his new-found passion forward by co-founding Mad Hats Theatre along with a group of like-minded friends and acquaintances. He was soon joined by his sister Sweta Garg, and it’s been an exciting and rewarding journey so far for the duo. Having worked on two plays together (Guilty As (Not) Charged and Where Cookies Tell Fortunes), Anurag shares that working so closely has helped them form a stronger bond. “We have gotten to know each other better — our strengths, talents, thought processes and weaknesses. This has brought us closer as
siblings and strengthened our trust in each other. And in turn, we are better able to complement each other in terms of roles and responsibilities.”
Sibling love aside, Sweta shares how the whole troupe is like a close-knit family. “During rehearsals for Snakes and Ladders in 2011, the entire cast secretly organised a birthday party for Puneet, complete with an elaborate cake, candles and gifts. That was one of the many incidents that make Mad Hats an extended family, rather than just a theatre group,” she reveals.
With a slew of plays in the pipeline, the details of which it’s too early to reveal, they look back on their three successful plays as motivators that spur them on, to do better.
Word of advice
Nikhil: Be patient, let go of your ego, work hard, never lose hope
Nikhil: An achievement would be to reach places where theatre is not easily accessible
Qualities of a good artiste
Indrani: Success is relative. But what is necessary is respect towards the art and a zeal to learn. At times, observe a situation from a distance for an alternate perspective
The young Nikhil Bharadwaj took to the art early on. “I got bitten by the bug in 2004, when I watched a play in Rangashankara,” reveals Bharad-waj. His wife, Indrani Sharma, took it up as an academic subject in college and got hooked. Performing since then, she now also conducts drama classes at Greenwood High
International School. “Children are your best critics. You immediately know if something is not working out with them,” explains Sharma about her job, adding, “Nikhil has an excellent rapport with children. He comes up with new tricks and techniques every time I ask for advice.”
Though the couple is yet to work on a play together, Bharadwaj tells us that they often conduct workshops and do smaller projects. “We work individually but come back and discuss our experiences every time. It helps us understand different perspectives, styles, factors and most of all, our own strengths and limitations,” he explains.
Being an actor, no doubt comes with many challenges and missteps and Bharadwaj tells us about some his biggest goof ups thus far. “I once played the wrong sound cues during a play. It created a lot of confusion. Another time, I used English conjunctions in between Kannada dialogues in Leelantha, in which I played the character of Daruka, Lord Krishna’s servant,” he laughs.
What we love about theatre
Abhishek: The stage, the lights, performing in front of a live audience, the power
to play with their expressions and emotions
Nagashree: Broadway and
Abhishek: Both of us would love to be part of Roysten
With productions like Malgudi Express, Namma Metro, P.S. I Don’t Love you, Magadi Days and Cocktail under their belt, Abhishek and Nagashree Iyengar of WeMove Theatre, is a couple worth tracking. “My first stint with theatre was when I was part of a children’s workshop in Mysore in 1988,” begins scriptwriter Abhishek, who has a background in Engineering and Science. “We have worked on almost every production of WeMove together. We learn something new every day and get to know more about each other every time we work together. Exploring your passion as a couple gives you a new perspective towards the art,” shares Nagashree, an MBA graduate. But it’s not always smooth sailing for this duo. “I once threw the whole script on Abhishek’s face in frustration, as I was under a lot of pressure to deliver my lines,” she laughs. Having won the Vijaya Karnataka Theatre Festival last year, Abhishek recalls a how his first ever script was received. “I adapted a famous Bengali script into Kannada. It bombed. People just did not accept it. But I have learnt since,” he reveals. Nagashree on the other hand, tells us how mortifying it was to completely forget her lines. “It was in Pune and I drew a complete blank. It was terrible,” she admits, but goes on to point out one of the highlights of her career so far, which was performing at a thea++tre collective. With a few tentative plans in the offing and production that’s a work in progress, the couple believes that being honest and critical of each other’s work is what keeps them going.
Arjun: We have a Broadway play lined up for the end of the year, the details of which we can’t yet reveal. And we might be staging Venus In Fur for a second time during the course
of the year.
Susan: Royal Court Theatre,
Director Sajnani is not new on the Bangalore theatre scene, but his niece Susan George is just starting to make a mark. Having gone to drama school in London and lived in Australia until two years ago, the city’s stages are still something of a novelty for this talented actress. “I would say we are a theatre family, as my mother (Sajnani’s sister) and her sister were also actors and for the longest time, my mum was my uncle’s leading lady,” George shares.
“My sister and I once played romantic interests. I’m not sure if it was very believable but we took it in our stride,” recalls Sajnani. Having performed two plays with George since her return — Venus in Fur and A Man For All Seasons — Sajnani shares how it’s easier to work with someone much younger. “As Susan is much younger, it is easier to instruct and mould her but I’m known to be a task master and while directing my sisters, I’d take advantage of the fact that I’m their older brother and expect more from them than from anybody else,” Sajnani explains. George has nothing but praise for her Uncle and shares how it is working with him. “He’s a perfectionist and it’s a complete joy seeing him in action,” she signs off.