For Sohrab Ardeshir, theatre was (quite literally) a do-or-die situation. An alumnus of the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute (NYC), Sohrab’s theatre journey of over 35 years is inspiring to say the least. Art, God of Carnage, Epilogue, Class of 84 are a few plays where he effortlessly captivates the audience into his world. Well, for an actor with the calibre like Sohrab’s just his voice is enough. As seen, or rather heard in the award winning radio play Q&A.

We were thrilled to have this heart-warming chat with Sohrab as he opens up about his student days, the high levels of professionalism in New York, and the magical, visceral experience that theatre is. He also talks about the need to standardize a performance and how formal training helps with the same. He wishes there was a more thriving theatre-going culture in India, and we couldn’t agree more.

Sohrab’s face lights up and his smile gets wider at the mention of theatre. And if this is not proof of unconditional, undying love for the craft, nothing is! He is hopeful that theatre will continue to triumph, as artists continue to find their voice and Indian stories take centerstage. 

Source- Rage Productions

How and why Theatre?

I studied commerce, I joined advertising, then I joined my father’s work. Nothing pleased me and I sat up in bed one morning, I was 24 and I said if I wake up in this bed at the age of 40 and I haven’t tried what I want to do, I’m going to cut my wrist. 

I fought with my father, went off to New York to study method acting with 500 dollars in my pocket. Worked for one and a half years in a hotel to be able to pay for my first month’s fees and loved every minute of it.

The reason I sort of wanted to train was, I found when I was doing shows in Bombay, there were certain nights where I’d be feeling great but the show would fall flat for me. And there were certain nights where I’d be feeling awful and I’d do a great show. I couldn’t understand how to standardize a performance. Training really helped me with that. It gives you ways to look into yourself and draw upon deep wells of reserve within you that you wouldn’t know were there.

Still from Two Steps Behind | Source: Rage Productions

International theatre vs theatre in India

In New York, everything is extremely organized. It is an 8 hour rehearsal period, not an evening rehearsal like we have in India. Your focus, your concentration has to be absolute because you are being paid for the rehearsal. The show goes up at 8 o’clock. Your last reporting time is 7:30 PM. If you are late three times during the run of the show, you’re thrown out. You could be the star, you’re out because you’re irresponsible. So there’s discipline and I love that, I like that working environment. Here it’s a bit slip-shot.

On the other hand, the advantage of Indian theatre because it’s semi amateur is that we face odds you don’t face in New York and we still triumph. I find that amazing. 

Still from God of Carnage | Source: Aadyam

According to you, what is the scope of improving the Indian theatre scene?

I don’t fault the actors, I don’t fault the directors because we work so hard here with so little money because we love it. I think what it’s lacking really is funding, number one which gives you a stronger structure. I’m afraid to say I think it’s lacking the commitment of the audience. Because internationally you run a play 8 times a week. The audience is there, there’s a theatre culture which I feel we lack here.

That’s what thrills me about theatre because it’s a live visceral experience and if it struck a chord, it stays with you. It’s not imprinted on film. It remains in the mind of the audience. I know as an actor, the greatest compliment I can get is when someone comes to me and says you know, I saw you in art in 1997 and I still remember your performance. That touches my heart.

Still from Good Mourning

Is Indian Theatre dying or evolving?

I think it’s evolving because people first of all are finding their voice here. In the good old days, we only did foreign plays. Today there’s a lot of writing happening here, plays are sometimes adapted, we’re starting to find our Indian English voice. I think people are ready now to hear and see stuff they weren’t before. And I firmly believe that an audience is as intelligent as the information you give it. I do not agree with this dumbing down the audience saying they’ll only accept a sex comedy so that’s all we can do. I don’t buy that.

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