The lure of the stage is always difficult to resist. For the serious actor, it always ends up scoring over the arc lights, glamour and big money of Bollywood.
Bollywood actor Manoj Bajpai, who has several releases like Jugad, Blade, Acid Factory and Rajniti lined up this year, is planning to return to theatre - his first love.
"I always find a reason to come back to theatre every time I get an opportunity," Bajpai told IANS during a freewheeling chat here during a visit to the capital to promote theatre and catch up with old friends from the National School of Drama (NSD).
"I am talking to (veteran theatre personality) Barry John, my mentor and guru, who taught me theatre for seven years. I would like to return to the stage with him since I am comfortable acting under his guidance. I told Barry a few days ago to think of a play in Hindi in which we can team up together on stage," Bajpai said.
Bajpai, who prefers to call himself an "actor-star" (actor first, star later), is one of the finest character actors in the country today with path-breaking movies like Satya, Shool, Kaun and Pinjar to his credit.
Dressed in white T-shirt, denims and white boots, Bajpai cut a relaxed and amiable figure sipping coffee and talking theatre. "I have done my bit for the Delhi stage. I spent 11 years in the capital doing theatre for almost 18 hours a day.
"We were so engrossed with the stage and so happy that we almost forgot our dream of making it big in Mumbai. Till of course Shekhar Kapur came to our rescue and reminded us that we had to pay our bills," he recalled.
The actor said the zeal then was different. "We, Ashish (Vidyarthi) Piyush (Mishra) and myself wanted to excel everyday and every hour. Piyush spent almost 10 years on the stage and Ashish nearly seven years. I do not have any regrets," he said.
Bajpai lamented that most of the drama students he met here in Delhi were all looking for the next train to Mumbai.
"I told them: 'Give some time to yourself - there is no one to help them in Mumbai. No godfather and no uncle'," he said.
The actor said Indian theatre required more people, more actors - serious theatre activists who would choose theatre, the real performing art, first.
Comparing the theatre movement in metros across the country, Bajpai felt that the theatre scene in the capital - home to the country's lone school of drama - was not as large as Broadway or London. "But qualitatively, it is as good. In contrast, western Indian metropolises have a very commercial and vibrant Gujarati stage because it caters to the masses.
"Marathi theatre used to be good and experimental once upon a time with towering personalities like Vijay Tendulkar. Kolkata had equally good theatre but television has taken its toll. People are now reluctant to leave the cushy comfort of their drawing room and their LCD and plasma television screens to watch theatres," Bajpai pointed out.
However, in the hinterland across regional India, theatre still elicits interest, Bajpai said.
"I have come across so much talent on my journeys to (native state) Bihar who cannot afford to come to Delhi or Mumbai," he said. Bihar capital Patna, according to him, has a very small but dedicated theatre movement.
According to the actor, theatre was losing out because there was dearth of good scripts, institutional support and constraints in resources. "The media has a big role to play in popularising theatre," he said.
Manoj, who is also an avid reader of plays - his favourite playwrights are German modernist Bertolt Brecht and Vijay Tendulkar - said he remembered two plays from his early days because of the "difficult characters" he had to play.
"Uljhaan and Holi went on to become super hits. I have also acted in Brecht's Drums in the Night directed by Robin Das," he said.
As for movies - it was Pinjar and 1971.
"Translating Amrita Pritam's character into reality was tough - because the character was so deeply rooted in literature. And personally, 1971 was the best film I have done till date," he said.
Bajpai has a wish that he would like see fulfilled.
"I want to see institutes like National Schools of Drama in every state of India," he said, adding that he would also like more corporate groups to sponsor theatre.