What do Naseeruddin Shah, Shah Rukh Khan and Pankaj Kapur have in common? They have enjoyed a successful career both on the stage and on the big screen. In fact, some of the best actors we see on the silver screen today are those who have wet their feet at the altar of theatre. But, do actors from a theatre background fare better in films than those who don’t have stage experience?
Manoj Bajpayee, who did several plays before making his Bollywood debut, says, “Actors from a theatre background are highly trained individuals. They learn to act in all kinds of circumstances, and are well-equipped to emote on any platform.” Seconding him is Nimrat Kaur, who also did theatre before graduating to films. She points out that formal training on the stage helps people who don’t belong to the film fraternity. “Theatre teaches patience and perseverance, especially to someone like me, who is a complete outsider. I don’t belong to a film family. Theatre has helped me learn a lot,” she says.
Counter perspective Raj Kummar Rao, however, feels that while a background in theatre does give actors grounding in the industry, it is not a prerequisite to having a good career in films. “Either somebody is a good actor, or he or she is not. Take Aamir Khan, for example. He hasn’t done theatre. But his acting is one of the best in the country. It’s a lot to do with the gift that you have. Some people are just gifted, and then they nurture their talent and make it better,” he says.
Balancing act Actor-playwright Manav Kaul opines that stage actors, nevertheless, have an edge over non-stage artistes. “Theatre and films are performing arts. If someone is regularly performing on stage, like Naseeruddin, it’s easy for him or her to adapt to the screen. I feel that they do have an edge over other actors,” he says. Like Manav, Kalki Koechlin also juggles theatre and films. The 34-year-old has written and has also acted in several plays, and she claims that acting for theatre has its merits and demerits. “Some theatre actors find it difficult to adapt to the screen, because they have to be a little over the top for it,” she says.
But, once actors have managed to deliver hits, it’s fairly rare for them to return to their theatre roots. Richa Chadha explains, “Hollywood actors do Broadway shows so often, as it makes sense, financially. The more money an actor makes, the easier it becomes for him or her to have the luxury of choice.” Even those who have managed to strike a balance find it hard to stay committed. “It’s so difficult to survive on just theatre. There is no funding. I find it difficult to handle both. There are times when I have to take a complete break from theatre,” adds Kalki.
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