Even though theatre is considered a valuable and popular art form, youngsters are reluctant to consider it as a career option.
There are multiple reasons for their reluctance, like popularity of OTT platforms and multi-screen theatres, lack of money and limited seats for formal training in acting in reputed institutions like National School of Drama (NSD), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jamia Millia Islamia and Asian Academy of Film and Television (AAFT).
Dinesh Prajapati is struggling as a theatre artist.
“I’ve been doing theatre since I was 10. I used to perform in plays in school. Then I joined the college theatre group and performed in inter-college competitions,” he recalled his journey.
However, he struggled to make money. His family also got worried and discouraged him from ‘wasting time in theatre’.
“Due to lack of money, my family got sceptical. Besides, it was difficult to balance studies with theatre. I also want to crack NSD, but then it’s so difficult since only a handful of people get selected. Besides, I’ve seen that not many people come up to watch plays. Instead, they prefer movies.”
Chandan Kumar Chaudhary, an artist affiliated with Darpan Theatre Group, talks about lack of theatre education in schools.
“I started theatre four years ago. Apart from Darpan, I’ve also been a part of other groups such as Black Pearl and Abhigyan. I tried NSD, but I didn’t get selected as the seats are few. Our school system doesn’t promote theatre much and students don’t know much about it. It becomes quite difficult to start at an older age. We also have to work and try on our own to study for the exam and get admission since there aren’t any recognised institutes for the preparation of exam at NSD or at other universities that provide a course in theatre education.”
While there are people who are fortunate to do theatre full-time, there are also people who are forced to work part-time to earn livelihood and simultaneously pursue their dreams.
Kuldeep Kumar, a resident of Rohini’s sector-20, is one such person. Kuldeep started his journey in theatre when he was 16.
“I have been working with nukkad-naatak groups since I was 16. I went to the theatre society in college. But I had to hide it from my parents as they wanted me to focus on studies. My parents weren’t able to provide fees for the theatre, therefore, I had to work part time. Even then parents don’t want me to continue with theatre. At present, I am part of Thespian Theatre Society. I’ve completed my graduation and I’m preparing for NSD too.”
Life for female artistes is tougher.
Riya Belwal, coordinator of Aaghaz Theatre Society of Zakir Husain Delhi College (Evening), narrates her story of chasing dreams: “I want to continue theatre for the rest of my life. There have been moments where I am in doubt if it’s a good option or not. My family supports me but it is not always backing me. I’m thoroughly devoted to theatre and I have been doing it since my schooldays. The journey is difficult. There are certain restrictions and barriers that I have faced as a girl, since I have had to practice for long hours. My parents are worried about me. I also attended NSD Sunday Club Workshop when I was in eighth standard and developed confidence to work as an artiste. I wanted to become a lawyer from the start, but when I became familiar with theatre, I developed interest in it.”
Sakshi Kashyap, another artiste, had to take a break for a year before planning to return to acting this year as her family struggled with money.
“Due to financial issues, I had to face a lot of problems. My parents are constantly telling me to work and earn a living. They don’t want to give me money for theatre activities. The last stage play I did was in 2022. Since then, I’ve not worked. Since I am working, I have to attend my job too. I have to balance it, but it is very difficult. My parents are strict and always tell me to not devote so much time to things that aren’t fruitful to you.”
Even after so many issues, there are people who have been able to get admission in reputed colleges and universities to pursue their dreams. There are few who managed to fight and work for their dreams.
Himansu Bisht, a performing arts student of Pondicherry University, explains, “I wasn’t into theatre from the start. In 2019, I saw a play of Shilpi Marwaha called Amrita Pritam. I thought that I could also do theatre there. During lockdown, I used to work with different groups such as Pravati Kala Kendra. Theatre demands time and devotion. At the time of graduation, it was difficult for me to devote time to studies and theatre. But now, since I’m studying performing arts, I don’t have to focus on other things or worry about them.”
Krishna Kant, a resident of Laxmi Nagar, who got selected for the second round of NSD exams, mentions the challenges he faced to get till here.
“I used to work with college theatre society and private theatre groups. I always had this dream to do something in theatre. Therefore, I prepared for NSD. I am happy that I was able to clear the first round and qualify for the next. It’s one of the most difficult exams, more difficult than UPSC as only 27 get selected,” said Kant who lives as PG in Laxmi Nagar.
It is notable that only a handful of institutions provide a bachelor’s or master’s course in performing arts or theatre with a very limited number of seats for the aspirants which makes it difficult to qualify.