When I named this blog ‘Chasing my only dream’, I was being honest. It really was my only dream. Yes, I am saying WAS. Things have changed in the past couple of years and in my journey so far, I have reached a point where I have picked up other interests, other skills, other DREAMS!
After my corporate life ended in 2012, I decided to focus only on acting. It primarily meant looking for acting work and rehearsing as much as I could at home. I started going to every studio I knew and checked if i was fit to audition. 9 out of 10 times, I wasn’t. This was not new to me but when you have nothing else to do, this gets depressing pretty soon. Yes, I got a small role in a major film. However, my total number of work days was less than 25. Add to that a few days of assisting on ad films, shooting for a short film, and some theatre rehearsals and shows. It still summed up to about 50. What does a guy do for the remaining 315 days of the year?
While I don’t think this is the case for all aspiring actors, I was not okay with this for myself. I was in my late 20s and did not want to spend most of my adult life just “looking for work”. This is when I remembered the words of a teacher in my life I have always looked up to.
I had worked with Neeraj Kabi as a production controller for his production of Hamlet which till date, is the finest play I have seen in my life. I was fortunate to be part of a team which included terrific actors like Shivani Tanksale, Neil Bhoopalam, Reshma Shetty, Mandar Gokhale and Ujjwal Chopra amongst others. Although I only did backstage, admin and production work for a whole year, the time I spent with Neeraj Sir gave me the light that still guides me through.
When I took his 10-day acting workshop, he used a phrase I can never forget – “shopping for life”. I can never be as articulate as he was but the gist of it is – you need to live your life, have all the experiences you possibly can, to become a better actor. He said acting is a craft and you need at least 10-15 years to be good at it, may be even more. But you keep living your life, and you keep doing your riyaz as an actor! He also said that there is no point taking pride doing a huge number of shows if you are not growing.
This is when I thought – can I really become a better actor if I spend all my time looking for acting work, doing these little roles here and there which finally just come down to memorizing lines and reproducing them in front of the camera. Even if I do get an excellent role, what experiences do i have to be able to do justice to it? While I was lost in this thought not knowing where to head, I saw in the news that Uttarakhand was hit by floods and there was tremendous loss of lives and property. I spoke with my friend Nikhil Bangera, made some arrangements, and 10 days later, I was in Uttarakhand as a volunteer.
My trip was supposed to be a 10-day trip where I was just help as much as I can and get back. But the most wonderful thing happened then. I met a bunch of kids who lived in a school named SNC. We connected in our first meeting and they insisted I stay with them. I took an English session for them (these were all Hindi medium kids) one morning and continued doing my volunteer work the rest of the day. I met several families with old parents who had lost their sons – some very young, others who were themselves fathers to infants. Along with local volunteers, I traveled to villages for surveys, delivering food and solar lamps, and sent reports to organisations for more help (all under SNC which is also an NGO). No matter how bad things got and how low I felt, getting back to the kids was a delight. I ended up living in Uttarakhand for 2 months.
In this time, as a payback to these little sweethearts, I started teaching them English since they had enjoyed the session I had conducted. They were all extremely sharp kids but were not exposed to the English language. We started lessons at 7 am every morning and by the end of 2 months, we had completed an entire basic English module. I sat with each one of them and gave them feedback on their progress as some of my teachers used to give me. I was overwhelmed by their enthusiasm and quest to learn whatever they could. I also ended up doing two plays with them – one on the story of Snow White (a version they narrated to me in Hindi and then we translated together in English) and Krishnaleela on the day of Janmashtami where I played Kans! I was surprised at this opportunity to act arising out of the least expected place. Also, the dedication and zest with which these kids worked on their lines, costumes, song and dance sequences put all of my preparation as an actor to shame. On the day of the performance, the girl playing Yashoda burst into tears during the scene when Krishna leaves for Mathura. She went on and on even when she was backstage and stopped only after I consoled her for a few minutes (right till the time of my entry). I could see around 200 villagers in the audience, all getting emotional at each and every scene. I was only hoping that they do not hate me after I played Kans! But mercifully, nothing of that sort happened and the show was perhaps the most memorable performance and experience of my life! I said to myself that if I really wanted to act, life will present me with an opportunity one way or the other. But if I give up on these experiences, I will probably never grow.
After I came back to Mumbai, I tried to get a fresh perspective on things. I got another film project, a couple of stints with TVF and a wonderful short film. I started traveling more. I did a bike trip from Mumbai to Rajasthan where my friend and I covered Barmer, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Pokhran, Osian and Ranakpur. A couple of months later, I did another Delhi-Agra-Rajasthan trip with my actor friend Deshik Vansadia and two lovely ladies from the U.S. of A.
This was followed by some Goa trips and another snow trek in Uttarakhand and some adventures in Rishikesh. Recently, I backpacked solo across Himachal where I visited Kasol, Tosh, Kheerganga, Rewalsar and spent one crazy night in Delhi. I also did a solo bike trip across Assam and Meghalaya. India is absolutely stunning! All you guys reading this – please PLEASE go see as much of India as you can. You will be amazed at how much it has to offer! You can read about my travel experiences on my travel blog here.
The teaching experience in Uttarakhand was quite fulfilling so I thought I should take it forward. This has led to me teaching street kids in Mumbai as a volunteer. My friend Nikhil, who gave up his managerial job to pursue a career in Education, is my inspiration for this. I have always believed in the power of education to solve India’s problems and may be, as part of the youth of my nation, I can play a little role in it.
The auditions have dried up a bit recently but life goes alright. Every once in a while I do get called by some casting directors like Abhishek Banerjee and Anmol Ahuja for an ad audition. I have taken up a job as a Travel content writer so that I can save some money to be able to travel more. I have met many new people in my new office, made new friends, and had embarrassing and awkward experiences. I continue to look for theatre work and performance opportunities more than auditions.
So what I am trying to say is this – things have been changing and I have been trying to embrace the change. Call it loss of focus if you will but I am actually enjoying this – trying to juggle acting, travel and teaching. I can’t see where I am going from here. I am anxious. I am also excited to see what happens from here on. I know for sure that I am in no way going to give up acting. I still text casting directors to ask for work. I still look for theatre opportunities. But now, I don’t have the craving to be a “star”. I don’t like the cost benefit ratio. I want to live my life, see the world, and in the bargain, I believe I will become a much better actor than I am today. It’s time to “SHOP FOR LIFE”.