He can boast of training some of the finest and biggest actors including Shah Rukh Khan, Freida Pinto, Manoj Bajpayee, Dia Mirza and Richa Chadda, over the last 40 years, but Barry John wouldn’t flaunt his starry alumni, unless you really coax him to.
And when we prodded him about his favourites, guess what the 70-year-old said? "It’s the first principle in being a respected teacher that you do not have favourites."
Here’s more from the man, who is addressed as “genius” by his celebrated students:
Can acting really be taught?
Of course. I believe that acting can be taught, even to someone who seems to have been born an actor. There’s a saying that talent is like water. Without a vessel to contain it, it’s useless. What is the vessel for talent? Technique.
Shah Rukh Khan has always come on record saying that he learnt a lot from you. What do you have to say about that?
I am always very touched by Shah Rukh’s loyalty and devotion, even when I’m not sure I deserve it. He was always a very hardworking student, driven by his enjoyment of performing, with an unusual level of energy. He was humble, ready to do any chore that was asked of him, and a great team player. I may have facilitated the growth of his talent, but where he has taken it, can only be credited to his own unique genius.
How was Freida (Pinto) as a student?
Freida was never considered to be ‘Bollywood’ material while in school. She was more academic and serious. With her, there was already a Hollywood connection ... I remember her choosing a Woody Allen script for her final performance.
From being the very first guide to actors like Deepak Dobriyal and Shilpa Shukla, to mentoring ones like Sonam Kapoor (for Raanjhanaa), the Capital’s theatre maverick Arvind Gaur has been no less than a ‘father figure’ as one of his best students, Kangana Ranaut, puts it.
And even as his illustrious students move on to win the world, Gaur continues to nurture new talents right here in the city, with a childlike dedication. The 51-year-old opened up to us:
Do you feel bad when your students leave theatre and switch to films completely?
There’s a beautiful relationship between theatre and cinema, so why should I feel bad. I feel proud to see them do so well in films ... they have, in fact, brought more social acceptance to theatre and theatre actors.
What has been the most satisfying moment as a teacher?
Theatre is not just about entertainment but about guiding people to be socially aware and responsible human beings. When I look at my students, be it Shilpi Marwah, Deepak Dobriyal, Kangana Ranaut or Sonam Kapoor, it’s most satisfying to see them move ahead in life with the principles I taught them.
Anything that your students did or said that touched you a lot?
Kangana said on a TV show recently that when she was in a state of confusion during her initial days in Delhi, I was like a farishta ...God to her ... it brought tears to my eyes. She is so famous today, and I’m just a middle-class teacher, yet she respects me so much. From the very first day I saw that passion in her eyes for the craft, she was always focussed and extremely hardworking. Sonam, too, was already a star when I mentored her, yet she was very rooted, and did gruelling workshops for 7-8 hours everyday.