by Roshan Mathew
How important would you say getting a formal education in drama has been to you as an actor and to your career? Would you say it is necessary for aspiring actors?
Getting training has been the most helpful thing I’ve done. It’s the best decision I’ve made and the most effective education I’ve bought myself. It gave me perspective that I otherwise would’ve taken a lot longer to gain. It also made this whole thing a more serious affair in my head. I was still only toying around with the idea of making a career out of acting/theatre while I was in Chennai. Moving to Bombay and meeting the people at Drama School Mumbai (DSM) and in the theatre scene there, got me thinking about it seriously. I started working harder because that space and the course inspired me. It gave me a routine to follow and made me a lot more comfortable with who I was. It showed me who I was and that the stories I came with were, in fact, my biggest strength. This is when I stopped trying to act like other people or actors I admired. It also empowered me to create work and gave me a bag of tools I could turn to. Having said all this, I still wouldn’t say getting formal training is mandatory. It helped me, of course. But it definitely isn’t the only way to learn. I’ve met many actors and creators who’ve had no formal training who make/do really inspiring work. In fact, some of them are so original in what they do purely because of how untouched they are. So yeah, to each his own.
You have been acting in theatre in three different cities. How would you say the experiences have shaped you?
Chennai and Mumbai are primarily where I’ve done theatre, other than performances in other cities. We do some theatre in Kochi too, but I’ve mostly only been directing since I got here. Chennai and Mumbai are very, very different though. In Chennai, especially with the groups I worked with, theatre felt like a hobby – something on the side. People who did it were very passionate about it, of course, but they all had day jobs. Theatre was what they did after their working hours. They had fun doing it, and the energy in the rehearsal rooms were great. In fact, I’ve felt that it was a great outlet for all the stress and frustration they would have carried – these artists bound by desk jobs, deadlines and other commitments. It was great to see them channel it all into a play, and that’s what really got me hooked to this thing. That energy in the room during a late evening rehearsal – I wanted to be there as much as I could. In Bombay things got a lot more professional. Almost everyone I worked with in a play was an actor by profession. This was their only job. That raises the stakes by a lot. And that obviously reflected in their approach to the work. It became more than just fun or an outlet. It became the most important thing in my day. I might go as far as to say it became the most important thing in life. Also the sheer amount of work that was happening all around made it feel like more of an “industry” than Chennai.
What was the experience filming C U Soon, considering it was done completely in lockdown? What were some unexpected obstacles you came across? What things were surprisingly not challenging?
Filming during the lockdown was great, not to mention a huge relief. It was lovely, firstly, just to have something to do. So everything else about the project automatically became a bonus, like the team I worked with, the quality of content, the character I got to play, the method of filming, and the visual language of the film. Everything was new, it almost felt more like a Drama School project than a film. We were figuring out how to do it as we were doing it. There were new problems and solutions every day. The team was small and intimate and we got along well. We all stayed in the same place. R&D was happening everyday. Actors and crew were supporting each other with everything they had because that was the only way it could have been possible. So overall, it felt much more intimate and connected than a film usually does. The trickiest part of it for me was acting without actually seeing my co-actors. I rely a lot on the give and take with co-actors, and here all I had was the sound of what they were saying. I had to gauge everything from just that. I had to feel them rather than see them. This was scary and difficult and great fun at the same time. What was unexpectedly easy has to be the level of clarity we had while shooting. Mahesh Narayanan is incredible. He saw the whole thing in his head so vividly that he could tell us exactly all the things we needed to know. Without that, we could have easily been in the dark a lot more and that is a very scary thought. Fahadh’s energy and excitement helped a lot too. He’s great to work with, even in a setting like this. Getting along with the team was also effortless and easy. A lot of boundaries were and had to be breached during the shoot, purely because of the nature of the whole thing and the setting we worked in, but that never felt uncomfortable. A lot of credit goes to the team and the hosts – Nazriya and Fahadh – for that.
Do you prefer acting or directing?
I love both, honestly. I think directing is just something I’ve put aside for later. I’m getting a huge kick out of acting now. There’s a lot of excitement there, and I’m not looking at anything else purely because of that. There are so many directors/actors/technicians I want to collaborate with as an actor. So I’ve prioritised that. Directing can happen later, if I’m capable enough. In fact, I’ve only seriously thought about directing in the context of theatre so far. That’s the only medium I’ve felt confident enough to tell a story through. Even so, I’m sure I’d never have directed a play if it weren’t for the fact that I’m in Kochi and there are very few groups/people here making theatre. It felt like if I wanted to do theatre, I’d have to direct. So I did. And I really did enjoy that process. It took everything I had and more to make it happen, and I’m sure what was made was mediocre, but it was the best we could put together then. I’d do it all over again at the drop of a hat and hope to get better as we go. So yeah, I enjoy both. I can’t pick one over the other, but for now I’ve decided to focus more on acting so that’s the choice.