Theatre is an inseparable part of Lucknow’s culture which runs deep as one of the cardinal roots of Lucknow’s shaan aur maan. The venerable stages of Bharatendu Natya Akademi and Sangeet Natak Academy, tapris and chaiwallahs crowding nearby have witnessed the bloom of the country’s best theatre artists over the years and how!
Prominent Bollywood celebrities like Pankaj Kapoor, Aahana Kumra, Saurabh Shukla, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and so on have graced the stages here time and again, leading Lucknow towards the zenith of artistic acreage!
With frequently conducted theatre workshops and performing arts festivals by the iconic Bewajah Cafe, Cafe Repertwahr, Lucknow Mahotsav here in the city, artists of all tides have found a shore in their voyage- be it maiden or conclusive!
So here we have listed 5 prominent theatre artists from Lucknow who have redefined the frontiers of theatre like no other!
Padma Shri Raj Bisaria
Termed as “the father of the modern theatre in North India", Raj Bisaria sir is a director, producer, actor and educationalist! He founded Theatre Arts Workshop in 1966 and Bhartendu Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1975 and since then, there has been no looking back! Raj Bisaria has blended the artistic concepts of the East and the West lapped with the traditional and the modern!
He has directed more than a century of plays of Indian, British, European and American playwrights and on both the TV and Radio, Raj Bisaria left his mark as an actor, moderator and an indelible thespian!
Raj Bisaria was also honoured with the prestigious Padma Shri which is the fourth highest civilian award in India, for his contribution towards Modern Indian Theatre and he is the first ever theatre personnel from Uttar Pradesh to receive so!
Raj Bisaria Studio in Lucknow is still one of the top-most learning studios for amateur actors and directors which provides comprehensive and intensive training of acting, direction, drama & diction, film etc!
Dr. Anil Rastogi
Dr. Anil Rastogi’s theatre journey started way back in 1958 when he took part in a play called ‘Noorjehan’ as the minister of the king. Dr. Rastogi’s performance was first noticed in plays like Jai Somnath and Sapne in the middle of the swinging sixties!
In 1971, he joined Darpan group and he portrayed the lead in a play called Hayavadan, directed by theatre maestro BV Karanth and from then on, there was no looking back.
He shifted to Germany for a while for higher research and he started performing almost every month in all kinds of plays which led to insightful experiences, important for his future journey.
In 1979, he was made Secretary of the Darpan group which continued up to 2017and with help of other theatre friends, Darpan reached newer heights everytime!
With over 1000 shows of 90 plays in different cities, Dr. Anil Rastogi’s introduction writes itself. Most acclaimed plays being- Yehoodi ki Ladki, Hayavadan, Panchi Ja Panchi aa, Kanyadaan, Fando and Lis, A view from the Bridge, Bare Foot in Athens, Mukhya Mantri and so on!
In a conversation with us, Dr. Rastogi mentioned-“Theatre has been a very important part of my life . It helped in my personality building and I got appreciation for my expression in lectures, meetings, conferences etc. It took me to electronic media, starting from Radio to TV to films and I started my second innings in Mumbai at the age of 70 years in 2013 which continued up to 2017! It gave me name and fame more than what I actually deserved. Theatre also helped me in making contacts easily with people who were otherwise unapproachable.
Lucknow theatre though being done in large number these days with maximum auditoriums in State has lost its sheen mostly due to liberal distribution of Govt grants. No doubt good performers are there but most of the theatre is mediocre or below standard. Due to misuse of grants, apparently every performer has become directors and producers. Mostly old plays are being repeated and novices are taking centre stage without any theatre knowledge. Ticketed shows are still a dream and youngsters are treating it as ladder to go to bigger screen!”
Dr. Anil Rastogi has been honoured with several recognitions and awards- most prestigious ones being Yash Bharti which is the highest award of UP Govt., UP SNA Ratn Sadasya, UP SNA Award and of course, Bank of Baroda Life Time Achievement Award!
An alumnus of the National School of Drama, Salim Arif was a part of the Lucknow theatre scnes of the 70’s which gave way to vibrant and experimental plays. A theatre veteran, Salim Arif’s Taj Mahal Ka Tender, Dil Chahta Hai , Agar Aur Magar, Bayaane Ghalib and so on have made him one of the most popular leading directors of the Hindi theatre scenes in India and rightfully so.
He left a colossal impression as a designer with Shyam Benegal’s Bharat Ek Khoj, Gulzar’s Mirza Ghalib and Nirja Guleri’s Chandrakanta- all portrayed with finesse and aesthetic vibrancy.
Salim has been a mentee of Gulzar sahab and shared a close relationship with Jagjit sahab too which lend him with the insights of the industry but his enigmatic aptitude is to be credited for his supreme rise in the industry!
In a conversation with Knocksense, Salim also mentioned that theatre has given him “the freedom to be a nobody”- he opted for the road less travelled. Salim relinquished the paths of glamour and fame, without regrets to concentrate more on performing arts on stage!
Salim Arif is also a recipient of the acclaimed Bhartendu Harishchandra Award of the U.P. Hindi-Urdu Adab Society for his contribution in rendering literary works on stage- a well-earned recognition which stemmed from his embedment into the art scenes.
Surya Mohan Kulshreshtha
Under the direction of Ranjeet Kapoor in Lucknow, Surya Mohan Kulshreshtha started his career in theatre in 1974. His name as a director was imprinted on the national theatre frontier after his performance of Rakesh’s Ramlila, which was featured in the National Festival of the Sangeet Natak Akademi organized in Delhi in 1985.
Till date, Surya Mohan’s crate of dynamic performances include Sophocles’ King Oedipus, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq, Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle and so on.
Manifesting minimalism on stage like no other, Surya Mohan’s approach towards theatre has always focused on the actor. A renowned actor himself, Shri Kulshreshtha has received critical acclaim through his performance of the role of Socrates in Barefoot in Athens directed by Raj Bisaria recently.
Shri Kulshreshtha has also represented India in the World Theatre Project in Germany in 1993 and he was one of the prestigious recipients of the Uttar Pradesh Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1995 and in 2014 for his expertise in direction! Amidst other honours, Surya Mohan has been awarded an Honorary Diploma by the International Amateur Theatre Association in Norway too.
Compared to the other thespians in Lucknow, Apurva is a newbie in the theatre province but given her extensive experience in these 10 years, she is as good as the leading artists in the industry.
Establishing her forte in direction, Apurva has been swaying back and forth from Mumbai to Lucknow, conducting acting workshops for children while balancing her career in direction and casting in the Indian film industry and also as a theatre artist (acting and direction).
When asked about the struggles of theatre in Lucknow, Apurva got candid with team Knocksense.
“Theatre is trapped in a cycle of scanty audience and hence, there are dwindling number of shows these days. Since only a certain part of Lucknow’s crowd can be termed as ‘theatre audience’, the groups here do not receive enough funds, sponsorship or resources. This makes the production process even more difficult and opportunities in reputed theatre schools are expensive or limited. These hassles and also low monetary gains lead to a switch in career paths or interest amidst a major chunk of performing arts aspirants. Some people do not have the option of pursuing what they love because of low income and it all contributes to the drop-outs of this field.”
When asked about her personal take on it, Apurva told us that she feels “rich”- in terms of having the good fortune of working with TVF, various prominent advertising brands, Bollywood hotshots and so on. One of the films she worked on also went on to join the prestigious Netflix legion.
“Good fortune” doesn't come easy- it is all about taking that leap of faith, fighting it out like a “refugee”, figuring it out in Mumbai, keeping up with the financial constraints, travelling to cities and villages all across the country to train others and in the meanwhile learning about herself.
Apurva Shah is a noteworthy name in the theatre fraternity of Lucknow and is an inspiration to the other candidates who want to venture into this daunting yet rewarding field. She’s strengthening the notions of girl power like no other.
Abhishek’s childhood was all about a picchars and his fantasies about working in fillums pulled him on to the stage for the first time in 1996 because he saw it as his ticket to Bollywood! Abhishek started freelancing in various important theatre groups like Meghdoot, Sanket, Rang Yatra, Uddipan etc., after which, he secured a seat in the prestigious Bhartendu Natya Academy for further studies in his chosen field!
Then his journey began from Lucknow to Delhi me as an actor and in 2007, Abhishek started off as a full-time theatre director and as an acting teacher! He was appointed as a theatre faculty at Opulent Acting School and also at a NSD funded extension school called the Himachal Cultural Research Forum & Theatre Academy. A prestigious member of the interview panel at Bhartendu Natya Academy, Abhishek Tiwari has carved a name with his sheer determination, discipline and hardwork.
“Theater taught me a lot about life- how to view societal issues with an open-mind and perspectives, the value of emotions, strict life style which includes punctuality and devotion.”
According to him, “Lucknow theater is deprived of the maestros who used to perform here because of their old age and labour intensive work. The new generation of artists here are doing their best here but unfortunately, they’re all striving to achieve fame without embracing the much-needed extensive training. Also, the glamour of the television industry has blurred the visions of some, when it comes to a future in the theatre sector! There are active groups here working in this field and they’re doing good. But in the 80’s and 90’s, the artists used to allocate their own finances to setup the productions because of their raging passion, which is unseen today. Now just grants and sponsorships are acting as the backbone of productions because of which, we’re losing out on this art somewhere. The newbies require more time, practice and good scripts, only then can they flourish to their full-potential.”
In Lucknow, Abhishek Tiwari is known as a man of many talents and the theatrewale bhaiyya who is moving mountains with his incredible prowess in the field of performing art!
“Exit, pursued by a bear.”
― William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale.