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NSD & Bollywood - Gateway or road block ?


Monojit Lahiri talks to some ex-luminaries for insights into this tricky issue.
MONOJIT LAHIRI | Issue Dated: March 17, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : NSD | Anupam Kher | Om Puri | Arts education | Salman Khan |

Do you really need to learn acting to make a name or big bucks in Bollywood? Did the Big 3 who dominated the 50’s, 60’s, even 70’s (Dilip-Dev-Raj) learn acting? Cut to 2013. Did any of the present Big 3 (SRK-Aamir-Salman) go to any acting institution? What’s the big deal about theatre academies and film schools like NSD and FTII, which generate such huge debates? Is NSD a garland or albatross around the neck of the graduates? Passionate and idealistic as many were, ultimately, isn’t Bollywood the only recourse? Did  their training help in breaking in and making a name that would offer them rewards – big bucks, super movies, respect and critical acclaim along with fan following – commensurate with the intense commitment and dedication they gave to their time spent in NSD?

What better way to kick off the debate by going to the go-to luminary, the greatest ad of NSD, Naseeruddin Shah. Did the acknowledged genius consider the years spent there as a nursery, training ground or time wasted? “I genuinely believe that too much is made of this training business. Remember the cardinal truth: Acting is always learnt, never taught. You can go to the finest acting school on earth and learn nothing! What it did teach Om (Puri) and me, however, was to mug up pages of dialogue quickly and deliver an effective performance. What the great Ebrahim Alkazi taught us was not how to act, but how to respond, imbibe and absorb an environment that reeked of drama.” Did NSD help him in Tinsel town? He frankly believed it didn’t and was a hindrance. “My training was constantly at war with what Bollywood perceived as good acting. It was, however, totally my fault. I was far too self-absorbed and blinkered and didn’t read the fine print that stated the kind of acting/performance B-town celebrated and mass audiences loved. The result was that while the Parallel Cinema, a tiny section of audiences and arty critics rooted for me, the mass-audiences rejected me, wholesale! Today if I have some audience – acceptability (having learnt the hard way!) NSD doesn’t really feature in it.”

Om Puri doesn’t quite buy into Naseer’s point of view. “Never was training more important and relevant than it is today. Biceps, aerobics, horse-riding and dancing are all very well, but what about the small matter of acting?! I am grateful to NSD because it gave me both, the training and the confidence to confront all odds and equipped me to face and overcome all challenges. It was Alkazi-saab’s encouragement that gave a Patiala-ka-chhokhra like me to go eyeball-to-eyeball with Jack Nicholson and Amitabh Bachchan.”

Anupam Kher, who was also head honcho of his alma mater for a while a few years ago, refuses to be reverential and calls a spade…a shovel! Kher believes that much has changed from then to now and puts his finger on attitude being the biggest problem. “Bollywood is a different space where actors are seldom familiar with either internationally revered – Ionesco, Chekov, Ibsen, Brecht, Stoppard, Osborne – playwrights or plays. To throw these names at them reeks of arrogance or a superiority/posturing that is neither required nor necessary to make your point. In fact, it puts them off and forces them to stay away from this snooty lot!  Confluence not conflict is the name of the game and it would be worthwhile emulating the icons of Hollywood – Brando, Pacino and De Nero, Olivier, Burton, even Hopkins, among others who brilliantly adapted from theatre to movies in seamless fashion without throwing attitude! It really would be ideal if, today, kids would concentrate on learning the basics of acting instead of constantly fantasizing how they can be the next SRK or Salman Khan. It’s sad to see this changed NSD.”  Pankaj Kapoor takes this lament forward. “While our mentor Alkazi saab had no grouses with B-town, he taught us that acting didn’t begin or end with Rajesh Khanna. He introduced us to the best of art, music, world cinema and the magic of great, powerhouse performances. However, times have changed. New themes, concepts and new-age directors continue to throw up new challenges. NSD needs to re-align its focus.”

At the end of the day, however, some uncomfortable facts need to be remembered. While the basics of acting that the great theatre school imparts is matchless, it is seldom called for or demanded in the Bollywood scheme of things. Neither Dabangg, Singham, Rowdy Rathore or any of the 100-crore club mega-hits reflect an iota of acting talent as decreed by NSD.  Why?  Because in a country where entertainment is Bollywood and Bollywood means stars – not actors – the NSD-turned actor will always remain in the shadows, more admired than hired!

Hope – as our gurus have often said – is heaven’s gift to struggling mortals!  Here’s to Hope 2013!


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017