Curtain Call: “My favourite theatre guru asked me to sing in his class!”
While I was designing the structure of a workshop I was supposed to conduct, I realised that most of the things I was going to talk about or teach were taught to me by one teacher! I have attended workshops by Indian and foreign “theatrewallahs”, but the one that has stayed with me the longest was that by the late Pandit Satyadev Dubey.
The first-ever workshop that I attended was by the late Chetan Datar. He was an excellent writer and director and was also responsible for the resurgence of the experimental theatre group – Awishkaar. I was probably the youngest in that workshop and was a part of it only because I was tagging along with my college seniors. It was a weeklong workshop and Chetan must have mentioned Dubeyji at least once every day. When I asked my seniors who this person was I was told that most of the actors and directors working in Pune or Mumbai have been trained by Dubeyji directly or indirectly. I was intrigued to know who this person that my first drama teacher was speaking so highly of is!
I got that chance after two years. Dubeyji was slated to come to Pune to conduct a workshop in May 2005. He was going to teach again after many years and the moment I heard about this, I registered myself. All the participants were given a patch in Hindi written by Dubeyji himself. It was about how almost every young person in India wants to be an actor. Very briefly it also underlines what all is at stake for a person who is seriously thinking of becoming an actor. It’s pretty famous in theatre circles. We were asked to memorise that article. The technique to memorise it was given in the article itself and it was pretty simple. Read the article in front of a mirror at least two hundred times (“at least” being the key word here).
As luck would have it, an entrance exam I was preparing for a year was scheduled on the first day of the workshop. In a different city! I had no choice but to miss the ever important first day. Honestly, I wouldn’t have missed it had it been my choice, but at that age most of your decisions are taken by your elders.
Anyway, the next day I went to the workshop fully prepared that I might be thrown out and it could end up being my last day there. I had heard that Dubeyji was extremely strict and was capable of throwing the choicest of words at his students.
I had gotten all the updates of the first day from a friend who was attending the workshop. It had helped that I had attended Chetan’s workshop earlier because most of the exercises were similar. I had indirectly been trained by Dubeyji.
The next day I sat with all the students. There were about thirty of us. And then I saw him for the first time! With grey, long hair and clean-shaven wearing light blue jeans and plain black kurta, and bushy eyebrows over an extremely intense gaze. He looked at all of us with that gaze and it stopped at me. “Get up,” he said. I did as I was ordered. “You are new!” I nodded. “Why are you new?” Other participants sniggered a little. I started speaking, but just after I had uttered my first word, he gestured me to stop. I thought that was the cue where he will throw me out. He said, “Breathe before you talk! It helps to speak louder. Remember that, always. Before saying any dialogue, your first action should be to breathe. Always remember to breathe!” I just realised that I had gotten my first lesson! I took a deep breath and told him about my exam. He was looking directly in my eyes the whole time and I tried not to avert his gaze. After I was done he took a long pause and simply asked “Can you sing? I want to end our daily sessions with some music.”
“I sing. But I don’t know if you will like it,” I replied honestly. Now everyone sniggered openly. Even he gave the faintest of smiles and to everyone’s surprise, especially mine, told me to sit down. I couldn’t believe my luck! I was finally going to be Dubeyji’s student!