Millennium Post

Delhi, world is your stage

It has been decades that the monopoly of everything cultural was in the hands of those in Bengal and then perhaps Mumbai. With the Bollywood industry spreading out like a brilliant map under the Mumbai skylights, the colours of Delhi’s theatre circuit seems to pale. But one could not be more mistaken. The Capital has a very strong theatre connect that marks a time line way before the mushrooming of everything currently popular. Right from National School of Drama to independent theatre performances by smaller groups across the University campuses and open-airtheatres that thrive across the city – theatre in Delhi seems to have a stronger link with performance than we think.

Bollywood has its own Delhi roots with some of the top starts in the industry tracing their origins to Delhi. While Mumbai made it or broke it for them, Delhi instilled in them the desire to perform and started it all off.


One the one hand we have reigning kings and queens such as Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Manoj Bajpai, Irrfan Khan, Huma Qureshi, and on the other, veterans like Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Anupam Kher, Anu Kapoor, Dolly Ahluwalia throng the list, which can go on and on. While some owe their art to what the faculty at NSD instilled in them, others call the city one of the strongest influences and their starting line.

Shah Rukh Khan grew up in Rajendra Nagar and attended St. Columba's School. Khan later attended the Hansraj College (1985– 1988) and earned his Bachelors degree in Economics. When Hansraj College celebrated its 50th anniversary, it gave away 17 shields to its alumni who had excelled in their lives and professions. Khan was one of them. Though he pursued a Masters Degree in Mass Communications at Jamia Millia Islamia, he later opted out to pursue a career in Bollywood. He also attended the National School of Drama in Delhi. But what created the man was Barry John’s acting school.


Barry John (born 1944), a Britishborn, Indian theatre director and teacher, was the Founder-Director of Theatre  Action Group (TAG) (1973–99), one of the early theatre group based in Delhi, that had Khan amongst its student actors. In 1997, he launched Imago Media Company, along with Sanjay Sujitabh, and also started Imago Acting School in Delhi, both of which moved to Mumbai in March 2007. Some of its alumni went on become top Bollywood actors, including Shahrukh Khan, Manoj Bajpai, Samir Soni and Shiney Ahuja, as well as Hollywood stars like Freida Pinto. After shifting base to Mumbai his acting school was opened in Mumbai as the Barry John Acting Studio, situated in Andheri. John was awarded the 1993 Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Theatre Direction, country’s premier academy for the performance arts.


The origins of the NSD can be traced back to a seminar in 1954, where the idea of a Central institution for theatre was mooted, subsequently a draft scheme was prepared in 1955, and the Sangeet Natak Akademi, which had Jawaharlal Nehru as its president, started drawing plans for the institution. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Delhi, Bharatiya Natya Sangh (BNS) with assistance from UNESCO, independently established the Asian Theatre Institute (ATI) on 20 January, 1958, and in July 1958, ATI was taken over by the Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA). In the following year, the government merged it with the newly founded school, and thus NSD was established in April 1959 under the auspices of Sangeet Natak Akademi. Initially the school was situated at Nizamuddin West, and was called 'National School of Drama and Asian Theatre Institute’, whose first batch passed out in 1961.

During his tenure as the directorof the institution, Ebrahim Alkazi (1962–1977), not just overhauled the syllabus, but also had the students dig and build platforms for a theatre in the backyard of a rented Kailash Colony house, where NSD had moved. Later when it moved to it present location in Mandi House, he also designed two auditoriums for NSD. In 1975 it became autonomous organisation, under the erstwhile Ministry of Education and Ministry of Culture, Department of Culture, with the name National School of Drama and relocated in May 1975, to its present premises. In 1999, the School organized its first National Theatre Festival, 'Bharat Rang Mahotsav', generally held during the second week of January each year.


Both Delhi University (DU) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) – two different modes of campus  life in the  Capital have theatre in common.Theatre in DU and JNU stem from a political background, usually becoming mouth pieces of parties for campus politics. This brand of performance comes from the understanding of current political situations and social concerns and work on various levels to reach out to other students. More often than not, the serious actors who desire to work their art beyond the constraints of the campus and political nitty-gritties step over in to theatre groups and carry on. They could also be the next batch of NSD students raring to take a shot at the bigger national scene. DU has produced a repertoire of wellknown directors who have time and again gone back to their alma mater and incorporated the lingo and the settings in their movies. Admitted that stories that start from here in most cases find ground in Mumbai on the 70 mm, that is where the money is, that is where the bright lights are, eventually. But the city instills in its actors the capacity and desire to shine and perform that gets ingrained in their system and no, they aren’t the run of the mill stars Mumbai spews out every second. When they act, the world sits up to watch.
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