I express my heartfelt gratitude to Rahul Gandhi — had he not sent his wishes to Narendra Modi on 27th March, perhaps I would never have known that that date is celebrated as the World Theatre Day. In that context, I would add that in spite of the enormous effort and time spent, no artist has ever been able to match the acting skills of any politician. Anyway, instead of discussing politics, I would rather write a few words to commemorate this day and to pay belated tribute to all the people who are involved in performing arts.
Harmony is the essence of life. In no other field of human activity is it more apparent than in dramatics. Here, the success of any act depends completely and equally on all the participants. If one or more actors fail to play their roles satisfactorily, the whole play is a disaster. In addition, there are players who remain in the background and completely hidden from the viewers and audience. In this light, it is a great challenge to the director to maintain this harmony. For example, the director may decide that a particular actress is suitable for a particular character, and selects her. But she is a very experienced and polished actress. Other actors may find it difficult to match steps with her. In such cases, the performance of the actress is too conspicuous to ignore and stands out against rest of the others. One could also have a sense that the actress has toned down her talent, and is not giving her full potential so that the remaining actors could stand equal to her. I don’t know whether this is just my perception or does it really happen in the theatre world. Either way — whether she compromises her talent and potential or not — this lack of harmony does lower the quality of the group performance. If the director does not want to ruin his work just because of this lack of balance, he has to select actors who would be able to stand at exactly same level of talent, potential and ability. Selecting such actors is not easy and not always possible — mostly because of financial constraints and non-availability of actors. Mostly the directors make a compromise. Instead of assembling a crew only of senior actors, they choose only one or two such experienced actors, who would be playing the lead roles, or rather the important scenes. Other actors could be given comparatively less important scenes — less important in the sense that it would not affect the overall quality of the performance. Every character is important of course. But there are certain scenes, certain acts which are very dear to the director and the writer. They want those scenes to be portrayed in the best possible manner and certainly do not want to compromise on them in any way.
For the actors, such opportunities are indeed very valuable. These scenes challenge them to demonstrate their full talent and reveal their full potential and acting skills. They want to be the best, at least not less in any degree compared to the equally talented actor standing in front of them. Secondly, I can imagine that the actors must be really enjoying such acts. Indeed, every artist loves it when confronted by an equally talented artist. Nobody wants a cake walk. Everyone seeks opportunities to compete, test their potential and talent. It is only by such tests do they polish themselves, improve themselves, and learn from the other actors. Only by struggling do we realise our true potential.
As viewers, we simply have to watch and enjoy the performance, notice the harmony, and appreciate the enormous effort the two actors are putting in. But we should never compare. As teacher J. Krishnamurti said, when you compare, you do not look at either of the two. Instead, you are only looking and picking out the faults. So don’t be judgemental, don’t say that this actor is better or that actor is less talented. Remember, acting is an art and no artist wants to underperform, at least not in front of his peer.
To illustrate my point, I present to you a scene from the movie Sikandar (1941), which depicts a verbal spat between Greek emperor Alexander and Indian king Porus (also called as Puru) played by legendary theatre personalities Prithviraj Kapoor and Sohrab Modi, respectively. Porus has been defeated by Alexander in battle and brought to the former’s court as a prisoner. But it turns out that Porus still hasn’t given up his dignity, self-respect and self-confidence. When Alexander asks him how he expects to be treated, Porus gives a terse reply, “Just as a king should treat another king”.
Both Prithviraj Kapoor and Sohrab Modi are known for their acting skills, and are considered as the pillars which supported the edifice of Indian cinema in its early days. However, we do notice a marked difference in their styles, which they have further customised for the roles that they are playing.
Prithviraj Kapoor is in perfect shape and has a chiselled body which gives him an appearance of a Greek god. He is full of charm and enthusiasm, and the joy of yet another victory is oozing out from each and every cell of his body. Only in two small moments does he show an authoritative and stern face — first, when he rebukes Seleucus Nicator and second when he restlessly asks Porus if that was all the latter had to say. Except these two instances, throughout the whole episode he keeps smiling, and despite Porus’ humiliating and insulting remarks, does not lose his composure. His confidence is that of a warrior who has spent a lifetime in battlefield and knows the art of war inside out. He is perfectly at ease as if he had never doubted the outcome of this battle and had always known that sooner and later it would be in his favour. Even though he is the winning king, and by all means is in the dominant position, yet he does not humiliate Porus even once. In fact, he does appreciate Porus’ courage and bravery, and does not hesitate in extending him a verbal tribute. In fact, when Porus rebukes Seleucus, Alexander does not try to defend his commander and instead tells him that he was indeed wrong.
Porus on the other hand, displays confidence of a different kind. He rarely moves, of course, because he is a prisoner. But he doesn’t even show any facial expressions. Instead, he relies on various modulations in his voice to present a powerful resistance to Alexander’s authority. He keeps his head high throughout the conversation, except when he enters the court and bows to Alexander in respect, who of course deserves it. His pride and haughtiness reaches such great height that he doesn’t think twice before reprimanding Seleucus in his own court. A lion is a lion, wherever it be. He is so over-confident of his capability that he refuses to accept that Alexander has indeed won the battle. He attributes Alexander’s victory to deceitful ways and unethical practices that he had followed. He does not fail to remind Alexander how this behaviour was in stark contrast to the way he was treated in Porus’ court.
In summary, both artists portray two kings, who both are great warriors, brave and highly confident. The only difference is their approach — while Prithviraj Kapoor projects himself as charming, active and agile, Sohrab Modi relies on his voice and the various modulations therein to assert his regality.