Pritesh Sodha: Artists are selfish and that’s a good thing

Posted on 27 February, 2017 by Team Wishberry

A still from Pritesh Sodha’s Marathi horror play, Tee.

Pritesh Sodha is a dynamite. A director, actor, writer, producer, lights designer - name it and he has donned the hat for his first love - theatre.

A late bloomer, as some might call him, theatre director Pritesh Sodha left his corporate job at the age of 26, and dove into the ocean of theatre with dreams as big as a galaxy. With an infectiously energetic personality that he possesses coupled with a will to meet people, it was fairly less difficult to get him to do an interview.

Pritesh is such a curious and excited man, that after meeting him, I was left awestruck by his unstable atom-like volatility. So much so that after the initial greetings, he himself began the conversation. That was humbling.

Here is what went down while we sipped coffee somewhere in Vile Parle.

Pritesh: I bumped into this article on Wishberry, and I saw my name in it. And with who all? Alok (Rajwade) was there, Vipul (Mahagaonkar) was there, and I was there. I mean, it is an honour for me to be listed with those guys. I am a big fan of Alok’s work, especially.

Thank you so much for that.

You are welcome, Pritesh. You are being modest here.

No. Those guys are geniuses. Actually, the fun with these guys, Alok and the entire gang from Pune, is that they get a great stage, they get fantastic mentoring. They have explored everything very young. They get guidance from Satish Alekar, master blaster like Mohit Takalkar, there's Nipun (Dharmadhikari), then Jitendra Joshi, Radhika Apte. So, everyone gets enough exposure.

I am not trying to take credit away from them. Individually, they are all geniuses and I love their work. But, mentoring and hand-holding is very strong there. And that helps a lot.

Yes, and that too at a very young age.

It is very difficult in Bombay. For a person like me, who does not have a reasonable college exposure to theatre... When I was in college, I was not exposed to inter-collegiate and all. I was, in fact, very much into heavy metal music.

I used to feel, what is this, Marathi waale hi Hindi mein kar rahe hain, Gujarati mein kar rahe hain.

Irawati Karnik, Advait Dadarkar, all these guys are amazing. But, I was not in their college. And I was not satisfied with what was happening in my college (with respect to theatre), so I did not even think of doing anything.

But then I look at their work. Geli Ekvees Varsha, for example. It isn't that I cannot think of concepts like that. But, how do I execute it? In fact, by the time I think of something, these guys have already done that thing. And wo kamaal hai. That is the fun of a very young age.

I am playing it as if I have nothing to lose. But, generally, after 24-25, you start being a little responsible about what you do. Whether something will work or not, what if this goes flop, what will happen, and all such thoughts start entering your mind. So, that is about it, in terms of the difference that those guys have.

How did theatre happen to you?

So getting introduced to Vijay Tendulkar and Marathi theatre was the start to everything that I know and the small competitions. I was doing my Master’s at the same time because I had to. I had to work because of family. I am from a very conventional Gujju orthodox family, so I had to work, I could not sit and be like I won’t do a job and just do this.

I took inspiration from people around me who had a job, but they were also working in theatre. They were trying to change the society through theatre. There is this one saying - before 30 you are a communist and after 30 you become a capitalist. But we are still stuck there (communist phase), because we want to change things and we are doing our best. And while I was working and doing Sanskrutik Dindi every month, I came across many writers Chandrashekhar Phansalkar, D M Mirajdar, and the likes. I started reading a lots of nice, contemporary literature and a lot of classic work, as well.

Pritesh Sodha

You were gathering all kinds of thoughts and literature.

Yes. We started reading more and more and that became our life. Work during the day and then practice theatre after that. That was fixed routine; there was no social life. The people we were doing theatre with became our only friend circle. So, that became a way of life; theatre is a way of life, they say.

And then I found the pamphlet for Thespo and then I proposed it to everyone. We proposed the idea to the Karyakari Mandal (of our society) and said that ‘you don’t have to do anything just give us some space to work on it’. They passed the proposal. There were just 5 of us who were acting. There were other 15-20 individuals just sitting around but were interested in theatre.

One of them suggested that we should do Vijay Tendulkar’s Baby. We wanted to do something difficult. We had to impress Thespo after all. That was my first attempt at directing independently. and that is when I made a small banner for myself called ‘Utopia’. You see, if we win Thespo, we’ll get dates in Prithvi Theatre and other places. So, with that expectation, we created the banner Utopia Comm’unique’ation.

‘Utopia’ cause that’s what we want to create - Utopia.

Yeah, that is the dream.

So, we started from that small child-like dream and got selected in Thespo. We got a nomination in every category, our actress got the award for the Best Actress, which I think is not bad.

That is a great start. How did that transform into a career in theatre?

Eventually, Manoj Shah, who did the play Mareez in Gujarati, said that he needs me to work with him in the kind of work that he is planning to do in Gujarati theatre. He needed someone as a replacement for a role in Mareez and he asked me to come to Prithvi for the rehearsals for the same. So I did a small replacement role and designed the lights. I went on to do about 4-5 productions with him and even went abroad for shows. All along, my regular day job was still going on. I was working all the time.

Is that around the time you quit the job?

Yes. That is when I started doing commercial plays also a little bit. I decided that I have to jump into it completely. 2010 was the year when I quit my job and started doing some events with Utopia. I started directing school plays, started coming to CPA (Center for Performing Arts) where I take lectures for lawyers, more like forum theatre activities.

Then I directed a play called Korat for a competition called Chitralekha, where I won all the prizes. I gained more confidence because it was my first Gujarati play as a director and it won so many prizes. From there I got other good shows, received a lot of prizes, and money for it. It was that time when Deepa Gehlot said that if I wanted, I could premiere my next production at NCPA’s Center Stage.

So, in 2011, I decided to adapt Proof by David Auburn a Pulitzer Prize winning play for Centre Stage. That play impressed a couple of producers and then I got the legendary Tiku Talsania as the lead in Ka Kanji No Ka, which was my take on the privatisation of education.

That sounds like quite a journey.

I have gone from lights to direction to writing, I have moved in a backward order and it’s not like I have done bad. I have won prizes everywhere. Everything is good, but I want to explore everything and every genre. Like, I feel I have still not done anything on mythology and history, so my eyes are set on that. I have never explored expressionism formats.

An energetic moment from KharrKharr, a play based on Dr. Usha Mehta and her contribution to the Indian freedom struggle.

What will be the agenda from here on?
Once, I had done Natsamrat in our society Sabha and I played the lead role of Ganpat Belvalkar in it. There was a dialogue in it -Kevhatari tya radtya pravasat mala sakshatkar jhala ki aaplyala ladhaycha tar te ranbhoomi var, ranbhoomich saathich. (I realized this one day, on my way, that if you ever have to fight it should be on your land, for your land.)

This is the line that the character tells his wife in the play. It got me thinking about how such strong conviction came to him in this character, from where is this conviction coming to Ganpatrao? He is wrong, he knows Natsamrat is wrong, yet he expects everything. That’s what an artist is, he is selfish. In Man and Superman, George Bernard Shaw says the same thing. An artist is selfish; even I am selfish. What I had learned from Natsamrat is how I can expect least and cause less harm to people, but at the same time I want to do similar work as Natsamrat. You know, like that particular character.

I want to explore characters, I want to look for places, stand on the roadside and eat bhajiya, I want to do it all.

Gujarati theatre, despite the quality, hasn’t really been able to pick up as it should have. But, with people like Pritesh Sodha giving it all, it has a bright future. He will inspire and motivate the ones who come his way and the next generation will have a great name to look up to in him.

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