Hindi cinema is often seen as the benchmark of acting talent, but there's something special about going on a stage and giving it your all in a performance for a live audience. The talent required for doing that single-take action is something completely different, there's no 'ek aur take de dena, kya hogaya' to back you up. So to shed light on India's theatre personalities who have made it big, we've got a list of 20 actors you must know from the world of stages.
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With over forty years of experience, Ratna Pathak Shah is one of the most talented actors this country has produced. Along with her husband Naseeruddin Shah, they make a duo like no other. She has critically acclaimed plays to her name like The Father, Einstien, A Walk In The Woods and many more. You've got to catch her play next time she's performing in your city to see what true acting talent looks like.
Shabana Azmi is another iconic name in Indian cinema, having made her name in the mainstream Hindi film industry and alternative cinema alike. She also played a major role in the evolution of modern Indian theatre, as she started from the stage and continues to showcase her skills there. Notably, the roles she has played has gained a lot of attention including M. S. Sathyu’s Safed Kundali (1980), based on The Caucasian Chalk Circle; and Feroz Abbas Khan’s Tumhari Amrita.
A veteran actor in Bollywood, Naseeruddin Shah has been a devout theatre actor for many years. He has also co-founded the theatre group Motley, along with Benjamin Gilani and Tom Atler in 1979 and has been working to improve the country's theatre scene ever since then. A national award winner, Shah has been awarded the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Shri, India's third and fourth highest civilian award respectively. His most well-known plays are The Father, The Truth, Waiting for Godot, Dear Liar, IsmatApaKeNaam, A Walk In The Woods and Einstien.
She first came in the public eye as an English news anchor for Mumbai Doordarshan on television, but found her true calling as a theatre actor. She worked with some of Indian English theatre's leading personalities including Adi Marazban, Janak Topari, and Alyque Padamsee during her career. She's acted in works of veteran playwrights like Tennessee William's Streetcar Named Desire, Edward Albee's Who's Afraid Of Virginia Wolf, Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues.
A co-founder of Motley, Gilani has been an acting champion ever since his career started. The stage has been his true love and it shows in his effortless performances. He studied and taught English literature at Delhi University prior to studying acting at the Film and Television Institute of India, where he met Naseeruddin Shah and Tom Alter, who later founded Motley together. Gilani's portrayal of Estragon in their staging of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is among the most celebrated performances in Indian theatre history.
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A theatre actor as well as a director, Lilette Dubey has been active in shaping Indian theatre for almost four decades. She has a theatre company called Primetime Theatre Company and it is over a quarter-century old. The company has focused specifically on promoting Indian playwrights. Her performances on stage include lead roles in varied plays from Greek tragedies to Indian classics. Her directorial ventures include India's longest running English play- Mahesh Dattani's Dance Like A Man which has completed almost 500 shows across the world.
Shriram Lagoo is one of the most prominent Marathi theatre personalities and he gave up a career in medicine to pursue his love for acting. He went on to form the theatre group Progressive Dramatic Association and established his career on the stage. He has been a part of 40 Marathi, Hindi and Gujarati plays. He also has a number of directorial hits to his name, having directed over 20 Marathi plays.
Having said to have brought the sense of independent identity to India theatre, Mahesh Dattani has written plays covering a variety of subjects and themes. He has his own theatre company called Playpen and has written superb scripts like Where There's A Will, Dance Like A Man, On A Muggy Night In Mumbai and Where Did I Leave My Purdah and so on. Talk about a powerhouse of talent!
Manav Kaul is what you call a tripple treat. A popular playwright, theatre director and actor, his first work as a playwright was Shakkar Ke Paanch Daane, which was a monologue in Hindi set in a small town in India. Notably, his other work includes Ihaam, Park, Peele Scooter Wala Aadmi and Bali Aur Shambhu. This is what it means to be supremely talented in your art.
Makarand Deshpande is another trailblazer when it comes to Indian theatre. He has about forty plays to his name. He's someone with a quirky personality and a distinct wit that cannot be missed. His plays have also gained popularity because they don't conform to the norms but are unconventional, eccentric and eclectic. He also runs a theatre company called Ansh Theatre and has made Sir Sir Sarla, Ek Kadam Aage, Kasturi, Grihalaxmi, Krishna Kidding, and The Doll.
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Before his entry into the Hindi film industry with the film Aagaman in 1982, Anupam Kher was a renowned theatre actor. He is an alumnus of the National School of Drama and his dramas like Shongram, Pranayam and Kuchh Bhi Ho Sakta Hai have got him a whole lot of love and appreciation in the world of drama.
Saurabh Shukla has been a force to be reckoned with in the world of stages ever since 1984. His role of Gopal in Jab Khuli Kitab was praised by critics and audiences alike. He has also directed and written many plays and one that stands out is Barff.
Girish Karnad is an Indian actor, director, and Kannada writer. He is also a Rhodes scholar and was most prominently known for using history and mythology to tackle modern, contemporary issues. His plays have been translated in English and performed all over the world bringing him fame like no other.
Way before her iconic role in Bandit Queen, Seema Biswas was a theatre actor from Assam. She has worked with prominent artists like Bhupen Hazarika and Bishnuprasad Rabha back home. To her name, she has had plays like Streea Prakar in which she outshone even herself.
Boman Irani is a person who has seen a lot of struggle in his life. He has worked as a waiter, a baker, and even a boxing photographer until he found his love of acting on the stage. He started his acting career under the tutelage and guidance of Hansraj Siddhia from 1981 to 1983. The veteran theatre star Alyque Padamsee was his mentor.
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After graduating from the National School of Drama, Pankaj Kapur spent a lot of time doing theatre. He acted in over 75 plays and then finally made his Bollywood debut with Shayam Benegal's film Arohan. His dramatic reading of Dopeheri was very popular.
Prithviraj Kapoor is often known as one of the forerunners of Indian cinema and theatre. He started his career during the silent era of Indian cinema. He is also one of the founders of Prithvi theatre in Mumbai, which, back then, was a traveling and performing theatre troupe. He first started his career in the theatres of Lyallpur and Peshawar.
Way before his role as Simran's stern father in Dilwalle Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and 400 other films in Hindi cinema, late actor Amrish Puri was known for his roles as a theatre actor. He acted at the Prithvi Theatre in plays written by Satyadev Dubey.
Another National School of Drama alumnus, late actor Om Puri is one of the biggest powerhouses of talent our country has produced. He worked closely with theatre since an early age and his first as a child star was in Chor Chor Chhup Ja.
Jim Sarbh has only just come into the Hindi cinema world. Before that, he was a storyteller through plays. Before wowing us on the big screen in Neerja, he worked in plays like Alque Padamsee's 2013 revival of Death of a Salesman, Rajat Kapoor's What's Done is Done, The Glass Menagerie, Vickram Kapadia's The Merchant of Venice and Kalki Koechlin's Living Room.
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