The Last Director: Satyadev Dubey

Theatre lost another artist this year. We all mourn the loss.

In an interview (dated 2008) by Reema Gehi, Satyadev Dubey talks about himself, his new play- KHUDA KE LIYE MAT DEKHNA and of what theatre means to him. His production of Jean Anouilh’s ANTIGONE (2007) reaffirmed Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s belief, talent does what it can, genius does what it must. Satyadev Dubey came to Mumbai from Bilaspur, Madhya Pradesh, to become a test cricketer. Instead, theatre became his pitch, and then his stadium for as many as four decades.

How is your health now?

I’m doing fine. I used to get bouts of dizziness. Last October at the premiere of ANTIGONE, I felt woozy. Everyone thoroughly pampered me and made my stay at the hospital a beautiful experience. You know, I’ve been a bachelor all my life. I don’t have a family. The hospital experience made me realise that I do have a family. And during my days there, I worked on a story idea for a play.

Which is?

(Laughs) My new play is called KHUDA KE LIYE MAT DEKHNA. Basically, it’s about me. The theme revolves around my work and my life. The three actors — Akash Khurana, Jagdish Rajpurohit and Shaikh Sami Usman play the three Dubeys. Akash is the main guy and the other two are his alter egos. There will be a lot of interaction between them. I call them all Dubenski.

Isn’t that being very narcissistic?

Of course it is. So? Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection. Similarly, I’ve fallen in love with the reflection of my work and my life. I enjoy the world of Acting and teaching the art.

Can Acting be taught?

Acting can never be taught but it can be learnt. This is a great mystery. You cannot repeat a performance. It may look similar but it is never the same. Naseeruddin Shah was trained for years at Delhi’s National School of Drama, and at Pune’s Film Institute. Even he doesn’t know that acting can’t be taught but he is still teaching it. When I used to conduct workshops, I would tell the students to imitate the way I perform a certain scene and then put in their bit.

But why begin with the principle of imitation?

If you are a good actor, you’ll go beyond what I do. I can give the actors a framework and then leave them to explore the rest to themselves. In that sense I give my actors not only the framework but also a lot of freedom.

Do you recommend acting schools to budding actors?

Whether you like it or not, acting schools are a huge business. Perhaps in the process, some great actors will emerge. However, a talented actor will manage to make a mark, irrespective of training. No one can guarantee that a student will become an exceptional actor. You can only teach students the tricks and give them tips. All of us know that an actor’s position is the most enviable one but only a few of us are aware that there are some remarkable theatre actors who haven’t done well financially.

You’ve dedicated almost your life to theatre. Has it been worth it?

(Smiles)Theatre has kept me alive. I can’t describe to you this feeling of being alive. If I may say so, theatre is like sex. It is a need. You have to enjoy it in order to like it. It is an extremely personal pleasure. (Pause) As you get older you stop to react. Now what do I do to keep this passion alive? I meet youngsters, I talk to them, share my experiences and wish to hear theirs. I’m always looking for fun. I am very selfish, I want to enjoy whatever I do.

Which is your most-cherished memory?

Let’s say that I’m glad that I’ve always been very lucky with my actors. They’ve all been very sincere and genuine. If I’ve survived in this field for so long, it is because of the perception of other people. I live by coincidence. Nothing in my life is planned, not even what I’m saying in this interview.

Okay, so what about the constant complaint that theatre hardly pays.

It won’t pay. Why should it? The best thing in the world is done by the amateurs. There are other ways and means of earning money. Like films or television. Today, I don’t know why I did some films. Probably to earn enough money to grow in theatre.

Don’t you get riled when you see under-rehearsed productions? 

(Nods) The amount of time, which a group believes in allotting for rehearsals is very subjective. A well-rehearsed performance is like the institution of marriage. It will be long lasting and therefore, much more valued. An under-rehearsed one is like a one-night stand. Once it’s over, it’s over for good.

Your style has been fairly conventional. Do you approve of experimental theatre gaining momentum?

How do you describe experimental theatre? In a way, all new work is experimental. The bottom line is whether the audience likes it or not. As for being conventional, I love my entries and exits. Even in my new play, there will be a proper beginning, a middle and an end.

What kind of relationship have you shared with your audience?

I often wonder of what can I do to seduce my audience. It has to be a two-way relationship. An audience must have a certain desire to watch a play. Like you want to watch a well-rehearsed performance, that is your need. Kehte hai na? Ishq hai do majbooriyon ka saath aana. It is like love, a mutual need. There is no logic in that.

Who have been the deepest influences on your life?

Shyam Benegal, whom I’ve known for over 40 years, has been one of the greatest influences on my life. Also Badal Sircar, Girish Karnad, Kumud Mishra and Vijay Tendulkar. These have been long lasting relationships. They are family. In fact, when I read Sircar’s play, EVAM INDRAJIT, I was very young and impressionable. The play inspired me to take theatre seriously. To date, I draw inspiration from it.

Besides your new play, is there anything else in the offing? 

I have put all my energies into my new play. This may be my last. I don’t know, if I’ll ever write again. You see, the themes get exhausted with actors and directors.

So what did you expect from your new play? 

I wanted to be contemporary. There is a conscious effort to be different. Every era finds its playwrights. There was Sophocles, George Bernard Shaw and in Indian Theatre came Vijay Tendulkar. Tomorrow, another playwright will emerge.

Do you see anyone of such potential?

(Lights up a cigarette) You see, everyone at some point has done something commendable. If I have to name a few, there are Akarsh Khurana and Trishla Patel, whose work I enjoy. Recently, Hidayat Sami, who has been with me since 19 years, put up a marvellous production called ALL ABOUT WOMEN. Most of the new theatre guys are doing impressive work. But quite honestly, I’m no soothsayer. I cannot predict their future.

It is said that it is very difficult to know the real Satyadev Dubey? 

(Laughs) Satyadev Dubey himself doesn’t know who he is, so how can they?

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