Vivaan Shah expresses his love for theatre: 'It is the mother of all art forms and has spawned the cinema'

Vivaan Shah expresses his love for theatre: 'It is the mother of all art forms and has spawned the cinema'

Vivaan Shah shares his experience of narrating legendary writer Premchand’s Gulli Danda, his literary pursuits, and more

Manasi Y MastakarUpdated: Sunday, June 25, 2023, 03:49 PM IST
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Actor and author Vivaan Shah’s work diary is bursting at the seams. Not only is he busy with web series and movies, he is also actively participating in theatre and chasing literary pursuits. A few months ago, Vivaan released his third novel, The Forsaken Wilderness. Currently, he is a part of the anthology Koi Baat Chale by Zee Theatre. Directed by Seema Pahwa, Vivaan is seen in Gulli Danda, based on legendary writer Munshi Premchand. In an interaction with The Free Press Journal, Vivaan opens up about his new project, and more.

Excerpts from an interview:

You narrated legendary writer Premchand’s story Gulli Danda for Koi Baat Chale. How was the experience? What prompted you to say yes?

It was an absolute dream come true! This is the second time I have immersed myself in the work of Munshi Premchand, who is one of my favourite writers of all time. I’ve even written a literary essay on social media about how much his work means to me. The first time I performed Premchand’s work was in my father’s production Katha Collage, which featured the famous short story, Bade Bhai Saahab. Gulli Danda, in a way, is a spiritual sibling of that short story. They evoke childhood in the same delicate way and both stories have a great love for Mother Earth and one’s fellow humans.

Was there any special prep involved for the same?

Conceiving the character of Gaya, who is a boy from the lower stations of society, took me back to a character I’ve played in a film called Coat. In order to mould Gaya, I was able to draw upon what I had learned while doing Coat and was able to apply the insights to Gulli Danda.

What makes Koi Baat Chale special for you?

Firstly, the opportunity to work with Seema ji who is one of my heroes and a source of huge inspiration to me, and secondly, the opportunity to inhabit the work of Premchand who is one of my favourite writers of all time. As I said before, doing this project was a dream come true and one of the happiest and most amazing experiences of my professional and also artistic life. I learned so much from Seema ji!

What do you think makes Gulli Danda relevant even today?

It deals with human concerns that are still prescient. I also feel that retelling such stories is a wonderful way to introduce a new audience to classic works of Hindi literature. I hope it inspires them to seek out these works and read them. I hope that through the visual and dramatic mediums, we are able to explore and also showcase the wealth of Hindi literature that is our heritage.

How and when did your initiation into theater happen?

Theatre is our lifeblood, and is very much in my veins. My involvement with the theatre has also spawned my career as a novelist. I have seen the stories of writers like Ismat Chughtai and Premchand being staged by my parents and so the literary aspects of theatre were also illuminated by the work my parents did.

How much of an influence were your parents when it comes to your choice of career as an actor?

Since everyone expected me to become an actor when I grew up, I had a kind of reverse rebellion in not wanting to be an actor! My own personal evolution and growth and interest in the profession changed that. However, once you become a professional actor, and enter the film industry, it is a whole different ballgame. I too, had a yearning and greed for stardom but never worked towards it in any significant and concrete way. My parents warned me of insidious influences and told me to be interested in the work, to focus on the craft, and not be swayed by the bells and whistles of stardom. They would tell me to be an actor only if I was interested in acting and truly loved it. They also told me that if I wanted to be a star, then I would have to work very hard to be able to do so. I would have to put in a different kind of hard work and develop a different kind of talent and skill.

How easy or difficult has it been for you to create your own space, away from your parents’ shadow?

It is a positive pressure, one which propels me to work harder and improve my craft so as to make them proud. It motivates me to do better and push further. It is an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as them.

What about writing? How did that happen?

I have always been a writer and think of myself as not just an actor. I have always done both and will continue to do so. Both professions complement each other beautifully. They are both about the act of communication. In acting one does it through gesture, vocal facility, and expression, and in literature through the design and arrangement of words.

Your third book, The Forsaken Wilderness, released earlier this year, is quite different from your previous works. What made you deviate from crime fiction to sci-fi?

The sense of wonder about the cosmos that has always permeated the tradition of science fiction that I draw from. I have always been interested in nature, the earth, science, and the workings of the natural and terrestrial world. This time, however, I have taken a flight to slightly extra-terrestrial realms.

As a writer, who are your literary inspirations?

Edgar Allan Poe, Joseph Conrad, Premchand, Manto and the list goes on.

You are a busy person, how do you find time for your literary pursuits?

It is an essential part of my day. I am constantly writing, even when I’m on a shoot.

Theatre, movie, and OTT — you have worked on three major platforms, which one do you like more? Why?

Theatre is hands down my favourite. It is the mother of all art forms and has spawned the cinema! The cinema was once regarded as the illegitimate offspring of the theatre. The theatre is the ‘first glamouriser of thought’ as Laurence Olivier called it. I also feel fortunate to have seen both eras, both the pre-OTT era and the digital revolution. I feel the digital revolution has made the distribution of work more democratic and we are moving closer to a level playing field.

What does your work diary for 2023 look like on the acting, writing, and directing front?

Charlie Chopra and the Mystery of the Solang Valley by the magnificent Vishal Bhardwaj.

U-Shape ki Gully by the wonderful Avinash Das. A show about doctors directed by the brilliant Sahir Raza. My film, Coat, which I did in Bihar with the great Sanjay Mishra and a thriller for Applause Entertainment.

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