Mumbai to Get a Drama School

City to get its first private drama school; Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw’s grandson Jehan is co-convener.

An hour before Jehan Sam Manekshaw is to meet Dr Bal Bhalerao, chief secretary of the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh at the literature society’s office in Charni Road, he sits in a swish cafe in Churchgate and admits that he is nervous. He has good reason to be — this is their first meeting after a liaison was formalised last month. Starting July, Manekshaw’s brainchild, The Drama School Mumbai will find a roof at the 81-year-old institution that is credited for its role in reviving Marathi theatre. Unlike other acting schools, DSM will be a private drama school that intends to offer a six-month, six-days-a-week course on acting and theatre making. The last six weeks will be dedicated to full-fledged productions directed by well-known theatre directors. The course has been put together by stage actors Padma Damodaran and Gitanjali Kulkarni.

"We have been practising a theatre of ‘compromise’ for too long," says 38-year-old Manekshaw, who obtained a post graduate degree in theatre direction from the University of London in 2004. At DSM, he hopes to create a new generation of theatre makers, who not only know the craft, but are also empowered to affect the environment of their medium.

When Manekshaw returned to India in 2006, he toured the country to learn how theatre is pursued in different states. More often than not, he found that it was a story of "struggle and survival". "Out here, although there is a lot of theatre happening, it is not a formalised sector," he says. In 2008, he set up Theatre Professionals with drama instructor and production manager Tasneem Fatehi. The company offered an Intensive Drama Programme where, annually, theatre practitioners were thrown into the same room to help an actor hone three instruments — body, breath and imagination. It was famed for its

military discipline (grandfather Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw’s influence, perhaps?).

However, after conducting the programme for four years, they realised it wasn’t enough. "DSM isn’t just about teaching how to act. It also teaches theatre-making. We want to create actors, creators and entrepreneurs. The other option remains — join an acting school and then walk around Aaram Nagar in Andheri, hoping that out of 1,000 people, you bag a role," he says.

Damodaran says the school wants to create storytellers. The Rs 2 lakh-course (hefty, but "comparable to other technical courses," assures Manekshaw) will include faculty members like actors Yuki Ellias and Deepal Doshi, and director Sankar Venkateswaran, besides training in Indian, Western and Eastern theatre practices. At the end of the day, students will be asked to create a piece based on guidelines offered by the instructor. Manekshaw calls this the "Eklavaya approach".

The first two hours of the 8 am to 4 pm class will be devoted to conditioning the body, voice and breath through martial arts like thang-ta and chow. Music composer Mandar Parkhi will offer training and Dr Sadhana Nayak a voice specialist will give lessons, too. A physiotherapist will talk about the anatomy.

While the news of DSM opening has generated buzz within the theatre community, one wonders why it took the city so long to earn its own drama school. Sanjna Kapoor, who helmed Prithvi Theatre for more than a decade before she set up theatre company Junoon, in 2012, believes the time is ripe for Mumbai to have its own version of Ninasam (a theatre school in Karnataka), or National School of Drama (Delhi). "It’s amazing how an entire commercial scenario has been created in theatre without any formal guidance," she says. Manekshaw feels the strength of the school will lie in its participants. "I’ve always believed that if you’ve built it, they’ll come."

Filed Under: Art