The theatre scene in India is at an all-time high, thanks to young people like Kalki Koechlin, Abhishek Majumdar, and many more who are taking it to great heights. We look at some of the brightest sparks from the theatre world (not in any particular order) who are setting the stage on fire.
There is nothing about Koechlin that has not been said before. Most people adore her as an on-screen actor, but we love her more for her work on the stage, writing, directing and portraying really complex characters. “It doesn’t matter what day you’re having, good or bad, once you come to the rehearsal hall, you leave everything behind. When you’re on stage, you’re in the show. That’s the thing I love to come back to. I always get sharpened as an actor,” says Koechlin.
Must Watch: Colour Blind, Skeleton Woman, Trivial Disasters, The Real Inspector Hound, Hair and Hamlet and The Clown Prince.
We call Prakash Koechlin’s partner in crime… why you ask? He, together with Nayantara Kotian and Kalki Koechlin, started Quaff Theatre – a group that believes in combining the vision of the writer, actor and director from start to finish.
Must Watch: The Real Inspector Hound
How can we not have Majumdar’s name on the list? He is one among young theatre artistes that write, direct, act and also teach the art to young enthusiasts. His plays talk about the current state of affairs and the hard-hitting realities of the modern world. His plays will make you want to observe the medium more closely and even embrace writing.
Must Watch: Gasha, Treadmill and The Djinns of Eidgah
Theatre actors bring so much more to the table – hell… they are the table itself! And this is what we saw in Kaur when we witnessed the film Lunchbox; the character gave us a glimpse of the regular ‘Indian woman’ and how she puts her dreams on a back burner after she starts a family. But this talented actor actually started her career acting alongside theatre veteran Sunil Shanbag in a musical at the Prithvi Theatre Festival in 2009. The rest as we know it is history. Her performances have the right amount of zest! She was also in the last season of Homeland.
Must Watch: Baghdad Wedding (2012), All About Women and Red Sparrow
Acting is in her blood, literally (she is the daughter of actors Sachin and Supriya Pilgaonkar). But don’t let this fool you; she is one of the peppiest actors out there. It seems like she enjoys what she does, given the fact that she has been honing her theatre and acting skills right from her school days. Indeed, all the great ones start young!
Must Watch: Freedom To Love and Internal Affairs
If you are looking for something mind-bogglingly different in the theatre circuit then Cross is your man. For example, his piece Flow showed the audience a world of dance, storytelling, acting and music – something which cuts through the barriers of genres. His work challenges you to take the road less travelled. He is the founder of Zorian Cross Productions, a theatre house based in New Delhi.
Must Watch: Flow
We are amazed to see how an automobile engineer with a master’s degree in design psychology can go on to be one of the finest theatre actors in India. Rajendran is a powerhouse whose portral of characters is bound to make you cry, laugh and rejoice. Watch the play titled My Name Is Cine-maa to know more. Rajendran dons the writer/director hat in this one. He is the founder of Chennai-based theatre group Stray Factory.
Must Watch: My Name Is Cine-maa
There are some people that don’t settle for less in life and Rajaram is one of them. Before he was bitten by the theatre bug, Rajaram had his professional roots in radio and advertising. Soon after he joined forces with Stray Factory, he directed plays like The Great Indian Blogologues and Confessions Of A Scattered Mind, and acted in plays like The Lost Audition, 7 7 7 ½ and many more. He is also a screenplay writer, singer, standup comedian and a voice-over artiste. There is nothing he can’t do. His willingness to be versatile amazes us.
Must Watch: Freedom To Love and Internal Affairs
You might know her for the viral video South of India – a musical which tries to break the Madrasi myth. That’s not all; she eats, sleeps, drinks and thinks theatre! Watch her in plays like My Name Is Cine-Maa and Carpouram and you will get a glimpse of the actor in her. She has all the qualities a good theatre person should have – voice, charm, conviction and power. She also works closely with Performance Group Tuida – a non-profit organisation.
Must Watch: My Name Is Cine-Maa and Carpouram
Rajendran is quite popular in Malayalam film industry now, but she has her roots in theatre, just like many talented actors. Versatile is what we would like to call her. No wonder she is shining in the movies too.
Must Watch: The Free Musketeers
Rarely do you meet people as impressionable as Samyuktha, a playwright, stage manager, and theatre director form Chennai. “I spent most of my early childhood backstage, traveling with my mother’s theatre crews, lending my face to a few television cameras, or snuggled under a thick blanket in a large editing studio, while my mother and father were working on films and serials with a variety of music directors, producers, dubbing artistes, actors, and editors,” she writes in a blog. Her plays Temporary Matters, The Fruits of War, A Haphazard Circle and A simple Twist of Fate will change how you look at things in current situations. She is also associated with a blog titled Chai Kadai – an independent media space for interaction and debate.
Must Watch: Temporary Matters, The Fruits of War, A Haphazard Circle and A Simple Twist of Fate
Another known name in the Indian theatre scene. If you have witnessed the play Re:play – an act which has immersive theatre elements. you will agree with us. Every aspect is flawless and awe-inspiring. A personality worth knowing about!
Must Watch: Re:play
Azad is more than just a pretty face – a talented singer and actor who also has a deep fascination for the stage. And why wouldn’t she? Azad is the niece of theatre legend Safdar Hashmi. She spent her childhood in a creative atmosphere along with theatre veterans like MK Raina and Habib Tanvir. Acting in children’s films and plays was the next thing to do. In 2010, she started a theatre company called The Skins, where she directed her first play, Lovepuke. Is there any thing she can't do?
Must Watch: Lovepuke
The variety of plays he has worked on is just phenomenal. He has a repertoire in not just English, but Hindi and Gujarati plays as well. He is also a writer and director. Some of the classic plays he has worked on are Lakshmi Poojan and The President is Coming.
Must Watch: The President is Coming
Karan B Shetty
Shetty was mesmerised by the thrills of theatre since he was a student at RV College of Engineering (RVCE Bangalore). Soon, he was heading the drama team. As luck and hard work would have it, he started his career working as an assistant director, and a copywriter in various production houses and advertising agencies in Bangalore and Mumbai. His plays Growing Up and Freedom to Love made him a star at the Short+Sweet festival at Mumbai in 2011 and 2012. Similarly, his play The Backyard Sale was broadcast as a radio play in London (2011) by The Tinderbox Alley Theatre Company and The Mercury Theatre along with Rage Productions. Further, Shetty’s full-length play Being Sartak Majumdar, which he wrote and directed, made it to finals at the Thespo 14 (2012) and was staged at the Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai. The play was invited to the Kala Ghoda Art Festival (2013) for a performance at the Max Mueller’s Bhavan too; it has also performed at the Canvas Laugh Factory Mumbai and The NCPA Theatre, Mumbai, with showcases at the Alliance Francaise in Chennai and Bangalore. And also, Jagriti Theatre, Bangalore. Currently, Shetty works in Mumbai as an advertising filmmaker.
Must Watch: Growing Up, Freedom to Love and Being Sartak Majumdar
There is more to her than what meets the eye – she is an actor, dancer, musician, and puppeteer. She works with Adishakti, a theatre company-based in Pondicherry, where she has performed in artistic bodies like The Hare and The Tortoise and Rhinoceros and she also collaborated with Indonesian dancer Sardono W Kusumo on a theatre production called Rama, Hanuman, Rawana. She is also credited for creating a play called Nidrawathwam which she wrote, directed, and also performed in. Two thumbs up to Raphael, the world could do with more people like her.
Must Watch: Nidrawathwam
The owner of Akvarious Productions, Akarsh Khurana has been involved in theatre from a young age, directing, producing, writing and acting. Khurana has produced over 45 plays in the last 14 years, of which he has directed 20, including Afsaneh: Bai se Bioscope Tak and Blackbird (for which he received META nominations), and then there is the hugely successful children’s play, A Special Bond, and its sequel. He had also directed the short play, Aabodana, for Rage’s One on One. Khurana also won the award for Best Director twice at Thespo (India's premier youth theatre festival) for his early work and went on to be nominated four times for Best Director at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (and won once for Stage Design). Five Akvarious productions have been nominated for the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards and two have won the prestigious award for Best Play. Akvarious has also produced seven plays for children. Khurana is also a scriptwriter and has penned screenplays of Krrish, U, Me aur Hum and Kites.
Must Watch: A Special Bond
Dobriyal is a prominent name in Indian theatre. He kick-started his theatre career with director Arvind Gaur, where he performed in stellar plays like Tughlaq, Andha Yug, Final Solutions, Desire Under the Elms, Rakt Kalyan, Court Martial and many more. You might know him in Bollywood from classic characters like Rajoh Tiwari (Omkara) and Pappi Ji (Tanu Weds Manu).
Must Watch: Court Martial and Tughlaq
This beautiful actor might be known for her roles in Chak De! India and B.A. Pass, but what most people may not know is that she is also an accomplished stage actor. She started her theatre stint with eminent theatre artist MK Raina. What followed were major roles in Mahesh Dattani's Final Solutions, Govind Deshpande’s Antim Diwas, Ashok Lal’s Ek Mamooli Aadmi, Girish Karnad’s Rakt Kalyan (Taledanda) and Neil Simon’s Log-Baag. No wonder challenging on-screen roles are a piece of cake.
Must Watch: Final Solutions
When we see her, we are reminded so much of films like Chak De! India and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Water and many more. But this NSD graduate (2001), has been actively associated with different mediums like theatre, television and films in India and abroad for the past 15 years. In her stint in the industry, she has worked with eminent personalities like John Russell Brown, Mahesh Dattani, Lillete Dubey and many more. Think plays like Wedding Album, a play directed by Lillete Dubey, written by Girish Karnad and has performed almost 150 shows in India and abroad. Mahesh Dattani’s Final Solutions. Ek Mamooli Aadmi, Swadesh Deepak’s Court Martaial and Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist are some of her best theatre works. She also runs her own theatre group Shila Shringar – it aims to bring together artistes, theatre activists and amateurs under one platform. She also takes acting classes for students and professionals alike.
Must Watch: Ek Mamooli Aadmi, Wedding Album and Accidental Death of an Anarchist
He might be a prominent on-screen actor with brilliant films like Udaan and Go Goa Gone to his credit, but he is also known for his theatre productions. We are talking about plays like Lamp Post and Rage Productions’s One on One (2010). He is one young, versatile theatre actor who will keep you glued to your seat.
Must Watch: One on One
She is one amongst the most accomplished stage actors of recent times and is versatile in the way she brings characters to life on stage. Some of her notable works are Snapshots From an Album and Joy Fernandez’s Full Of Joy, where she portrays the role of a journalist. Divya has also worked with Satyadev Dubey on productions like Inshaallah, Be Kaar Ki Bak Bak and Boy Who Stops Smiling followed by Orange Juice – a play by veteran actor Manoj Shah.
Must Watch: Snapshots From an Album and Orange Juice
We all know that she is an amazing on-screen actor, but she took us by surprise when she shared the stage with actor Om Puri in Teri Amrita (a different take on Javed Siddiqui's Tumhari Amrita – an adaptation of American playwright A R Gurney’s Love Letters). When you watch her, it seems like the role is especially tailored for her; she takes on the character of Amrita Nigam with such ease. If we have actors like her, the future of theatre in India is bright.
Must Watch: Teri Amrita
Ranji David and Nandini Rao
When this duo is behind a project, you can expect a riot on stage. David and Rao have raised the standards of interactive and improvisational theatre in India. If you have seen plays like Bhagwan Dhundoo then you will know exactly what we are talking about. They are in total sync. They are the co-founders of the theatre house Yours Truly Theatre, Bangalore.
Must Watch: Bhagwan Dhundoo
He turns the popular idiom into ‘jack of all trades, master of all.’ He is well known with kids and theatre enthusiasts for his storytelling sessions which have elements of theatre in them. He is also the brains behind Tahatto, a theatre group in Bangalore. Catch plays like Romeo & Juliet - No Strings Attached, Bangalores - 7 Lores, 7 Strangers, 1 Band, and many more to get a glimpse of what his theatre group is all about.
Must Watch: Bangalores - 7 Lores, 7 Strangers, 1 Band
All of 23, this playwright and stage actor already has big plays to his credit like the Caesarians (2010) which he co-wrote, Vigilante vs. Vigilante (2010), Hallway Chronicles (2011), The Horizon (2012), Kolaikaran Pettai (2012) and Sherlock Holmes (2012) and many more. His recent endeavours are Censored (2014) and The Abridged History of Modern Day India (2014). All this aside, he is also known for his portrayal of Osama bin Laden in Kamal Haasan’s film Vishwaroopam. Cool, eh? All that talent with good looks to boot – ladies, are you taking note?
Must Watch: Abridged History of Modern Day India
Founder/director of WeMove Theatre, Bangalore, he aims at revolutionising and exploring new forms of theatre in the country. During his stint in the art form he has penned several plays in English and Kannada like Cocktail and Namma Metro, four of which he has written for WeMove Theatre.
Must Watch: Namma Metro
She is on another level in the theater circuit. She has worked with people like Abhishek Majumdar, for starters. Watching her portray characters on stage is a pleasure. If you are a theatre enthusiast, we recommend you watch her on stage.
Must Watch: Treadmill
For starters, she was the youngest artist to have directed for The Madras Players – the oldest English theatre group in India. Enough said, don't you think? Artistic Director and trainer with Crea-Shakthi – she plays a vital role in writing, acting and directing English plays for the firm. She also trains children in theatre at various schools around Chennai.
Must Watch: And Then There Were None
She proves that creativity is not synonymous with age; Nayar was already adapting plays in her college years and directing them too, and has worked on several productions as a writer, actor, director and producer. She was also an Artistic Director at Crea-Shakthi and has trained children in theatre. Currently, she is pursuing her masters' degree at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).
Must Watch: #BossLady
As an actor if you are associated with big theatre groups like The Madras Players and The Little Theatre then you are good, there is no doubt about that! We can’t describe how he is on stage; you have to experience it yourself.
Must Watch: Leap Into Love
When we think of Amarnath, the character of Ms Meena comes into mind. There is something about Karuna that is deviously charming. Awe-inspiring performance is what you can expect from her. Always.
Must Watch: Ms Meena
Ever since his college days, he has been interested in theatre. It’s a lot of hard work, but he makes it seem so easy. It's all the more rewarding when he dons the director's cap!
Must Watch: Stalowa Wola
No list on theatre can be complete without the mention of the fire brand of talent, Shikhar. Plays like Treadmill are mere examples of what complex characters he can cloak. A genius!
Must Watch: Gasha and Treadmill
Shah has created a niche for himself in the theatre industry too. Yes, Imaad is the son of Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah, but he is so talented that he doesn’t need his parents’ name to go places. When Shah is not touring with his group Madboy/Mink, he is busy working in his father's theatre company Motley, acting in numerous plays like Katha Collage, Waiting for Godot, By George and Manto... Ismat Hazir Hain. He also works with other groups.
Must Watch: Katha Collage and By George
Want to be dazzled? Meet Amitesh Grover, a time-based artist from New Delhi, known for his work in various art forms like theatre, performance, inter-media art and gaming too. Fifteen performance and mixed-media installations, 110 showings across 9 countries and counting... he has been there, done that! His works challangers the audience to think beyond the normal. He regularly contributes to contemporary theatre through workshops, talks and articles as well.
Must Watch: Hand Over Fist, Memorable Equinox and I Hate My Body
Artistic director of The Little Theatre, Balasubramanian is the man behind plays like Alice in iLand, The Free Musketeers and musicals like Atita and Gapsaa – Fully Loaded. He is also an Indian film actor. If you want your kids to develop a sense of artistic insight, get them to one of his shows.
Must Watch: The Free Musketeers and Alice in iLand
He is the founder/director of Theatre Professionals – a drama school in Mumbai. Since its inception in 2008, Manekshaw has trained numerous professional actors, children, and corporates alike. What caught our eye was his Intensive Drama Programme – a curriculum which brings theatre artistes from diverse backgrounds in the world like Kerala, Manipur, London, Latin America and more, with a goal to collaborate and deliver a cohesive learning experience. Apart from coaching theatre enthusiasts at his school, he has also directed many plays across various languages and cultures. The most recent ones are Shakespeare’s Othello in Kannada staged at the Ninasam Theatre Institute, Shimoga and Eklavya in Japanese at the Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre, Japan.
Must Watch: Eklavya
Do you know of any other theatre personalities that have changed the scene in India? Let us know in the comments below.