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A travelling actor

Playing a badman in Bollywood no longer excites Ashish Vidyarthi, who would rather experiment on stage. In town to give away an award instituted in his father’s memory, Vidyarthi will also perform Dayashankar Ki Diary, a play he had first performed in Calcutta nine years back.

A t2 chat...

You are in Calcutta for a special award this time...

Yes, I am here to give away the Second Vidyarthi Samman, an award instituted last year in memory of my father Govind Vidyarthi. My father was very fond of my play Dayashankar Ki Diary, so it is only fitting that I do it at the award ceremony. Also, the play goes well with an award that aims at acknowledging the immeasurable contribution of ordinary people. People, like my father, who remain unknown, unsung and unseen for the better part of their lives.

How has Dayashankar Ki Diary evolved over the years?

Dayashankar is a typical small town man who comes to the city with dreams of making it big. He lands a clerical job instead and unable to accept the drab reality of his existence, Dayashankar spins a fine cocoon of fantasies to shield himself from the reality.

We have done more than 75 shows of this play all over India and in the UAE in the last 10 years.... There have been subliminal changes because so many things have been happening to me over time and no artistic expression remains untouched by the evolution within the artiste or what is happening around him. In any case, theatre is like a living organism and even though there have been so many shows, the one at Academy (of Fine Arts) will be a new play.

Any new play you are busy with...

I am doing a multilingual play — it’s in English, Sanskrit and Malayalam — called Ottayan, with Kavalam Narayana Panikkar and his group. This is a fascinating play based on a parable using the ancient Kudiyattam form. I appear in traditional Kathakali costume with two other actors. The title means ‘lone tusker’ and deals with what happens when a tusker breaks out of the herd to chart its own course.

In a way that is what all artistes need to do, to go solo. It was easy for me to identify with the story because that is what I myself did when some seven years back I found myself doing the same kind of roles over and over again. Professionally it was good but it was killing my passion for acting. I realised that if I continued in Bollywood I would never get to establish my credentials as an actor. So I decided to step out. I kept saying ‘no’ to offers and after a while there was nothing.

How did you start over then?

That was a hard time but it was like a tapasya for me, something I had to do to reinvent myself as an actor. I signed up south Indian films and in the last seven years I have done some 75 films outside Hindi, of which 25 are in Tamil, 25 in Telugu and Malayalam, 11 in Bengali and some 15 in Kannada.

I established myself as a travelling actor and instead of a Hindi actor, I came to be recognised as a Malayalam, Kannada and Tamil actor too. I see myself as an Indian citizen who is willing to travel anywhere for a good role.

Right now, I am working with a Mumbai group called Ekjute, which has produced Dayashankar Ki Diary.

How different is acting on stage from screen?

Well, no two shows are the same in theatre. To me, acting on stage is like handling a live dynamite.

For me my screen reputation works both ways because more people know me and are curious about the play. But then more people turn up expecting me in the kind of roles they are used to seeing me in films. For me theatre is a completely different world. It is something I do not for commercial considerations but because it inspires me.

Which theatre actor has been your inspiration?

An ongoing inspiration and someone I always tend to fall short of is Naseeruddin Shah. Watching him on stage is simply awe-inspiring.

How often do you do stage shows? What about rehearsals?

We have had very few shows in the last three months as I have been travelling with other work. Coming up is another show of Dayashankar in Pakistan in November and a show of Ottayan in Cochin in September.

I snatch every bit of time I can to prepare myself.... I learn my lines on the flight or stay up all night if necessary.

Dayashankar Ki Diary will be staged at Academy of Fine Arts today at 6 pm.

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