Interview with The Siddhus: Shernaz Patel

Even after three decades on the Indian theatre scene, Shernaz Patel has never ceased to amaze us.

The actress, who first charmed us in The Diary of Anne Frank, has been on a roll since 1984. And luckily for us, it looks like there’s no stopping her! Shernaz is all set to return to the stage at Aadyam with The Siddhus of Upper Juhu. As the play draws closer, Shernaz answers a few questions about The Siddhus of Upper Juhu, theatre and everything in between:

You’ve been an integral part of the Indian theatre scene for three decades now. How has the theatre scene evolved since you first started out?
I think a lot has changed over the years, some for the better, but not all of it.

We have more theatre groups now. We have a larger audience base, which is heartening… It’s great to see so many young people embracing theatre. And this phenomenon is seen across the country. I think in our impersonal computer and mobile-driven world, people are hungry for the live communication that arts like the theatre bring. We have more original writing, which is the way it should be. It is important that we tell our stories – Stories about our country and our people.

However, for all that progress, we still produce some mediocre and amateur work. We still lack sufficient training, especially in technical areas and in directing. We literally only have a handful of auditoriums, and audiences are still not completely accepting of experimental work. We have zero government funding and are still unable to live off theatre.

To viewers, your transition from theatre to cinema and back again has been nothing short of seamless. Is it easy for you to switch between mediums? What are the advantages and challenges that come with each?
In the west, most actors, stars even, seamlessly move from performing in blockbuster films to television shows and to theatre. It is only in our country where film actors seem diffident about performing on stage. I personally love being able to embrace all mediums. I find it challenging, exciting and fun to be able to shoot a big film and then rush to perform in a tiny intimate auditorium. As far as performing goes, aside from the technical differences between the mediums, the process of arriving at a character is just the same. The quest for creating a truthful characterization is the same. That being said, theatre for me is like home. I was born into a theatre family and have been comfortable on the stage since I was a baby. My theatre friends are my extended family. That sense of belonging I don’t feel in film. I still feel like an outsider there.

How was it sharing the stage with your Rage Theatre co-founder, Rajit Kapur, once again?
Rajit and I have been close for so long that we completely trust each other when we are performing. And trust is so important when one is on stage. Aside from that, we are extremely comfortable with each other and I think that comfort reflects on stage. I’m sure we will be totally convincing in this play as a middle-aged married couple! He is one of the most talented theatre actors I know and he has the amazing ability to do tragedy and comedy with equal ease. He challenges me and I learn from him everyday.

The Siddhus of Upper Juhu puts a comical twist on issues all city-dwellers face. What was the one plot in the play that you found most relatable?
For me, it’s the noise! Everything in Bombay is so loud. We are bombarded by noise day and night. You sit in a rickshaw in the city and you can’t think straight! There was a time when at least Sundays were quiet… We don’t even have that anymore!

Aadyam has brought theatre to the forefront in India, and made it a part of mainstream consciousness. What inspired you to be a part of the initiative?
By putting theatre on a pedestal, Aadyam is giving us the kind of support we have yearned for a long time. Other corporates have supported our Rage efforts over time, but to have a long term vision like Aadyam has, to provide us with such financial backing, to give theatre projects the kind of publicity that this initiative is giving, is really unheard of. It’s fantastic and I hope it leads to a larger audience base for theatre, more professionalism in theatre and better creative expression. Also, the fact that this is not just a one-off, but a long-term initiative, that will, over time, encompass other art forms as well, makes it even more exciting. Fountainhead has to be thanked here for initiating this project and for believing in us. Without them none of this would have happened.

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