In a shocking incident, theatre artist Vinay Varma of Sutradhar Theatre School has been accused of asking his students to disrobe during a workshop.
Given that Hyderabad’s drama circuit is pretty small when compared to other metros like Mumbai or Delhi, a recent incident that has exposed harassment in the world of theatre has left professionals across the country shocked. Achint Kaur Chadda, a student of Sutradhar Theatre School has filed a complaint against its founder, well known theatre artiste Vinay Varma. Chadda has accused Varma of asking students to remove their clothes during a workshop, failing which, they were asked to leave the class. She adds that Varma got angry when she questioned why she had to remove her clothes.
“He shouted at us saying that whoever was not willing to do what he said would be thrown out. While the others obliged, I came out and decided to lodge a complaint,” she reveals. Reacting to the incident, film, television and theatre actress Mita Vasisht says, “You have to be a great teacher in order to teach theatre. Most people are well meaning but don’t know how to go about it. A lot of theatre teaching then falls into stupid shock tactics to rid students of their inhibitions, his seems like the same, an unskilled teacher without a deep knowledge of the actors’ craft.”
Narrating an incident from her own life as an example, Vasisht adds, “I did walk out of a class in National School of Drama twenty years ago as a student when the theatre game was becoming violent and cruel and going unchecked. I told the teacher that; theatre is meant to elevate the human being and there must be other ways for students to learn about the dark side of human nature rather than fuelling it in class. Of course, I came to drama school after an MA in English and chose to act — if name, fame and money are not considerations for taking up acting, then you can stand firm and question even a teacher if something feels spiritually incorrect.”
Meanwhile, Vinay Varma justifies his actions. However, not many are buying his ‘theory’.
“I spoke with a few people regarding this particular exercise which Vinay Varma has mentioned. But nowhere is something like this practiced, including places like National School of Drama and Film and Television Institute of India. Even if something of this sort is done, it is for something very specific and after ensuring that all the actors are very comfortable with each other. There is a method in which an actor removes a few clothes, not everything, but this happens if and only if it is required and the person is comfortable,” says Saurabh Gharipurikar of Udaan Performing Art.
Renowned journalist turned casting director Kunal M. Shah agrees.
He adds, “This is the most ridiculous piece of news that I have ever heard of. There are many workshops that happen in and around my office in Mumbai and usually the guys who conduct the workshop are strict and set a pattern in terms of rules and regulations. But this is something which is unheard of and extremely appalling. I am glad someone is raising their voice as this kind of conduct is unacceptable. I believe that an unconditional apology is in order.”
However, justifying Vinay Varma’s act, Dramanon’s director R.K. Shenoy says, “Different theatre groups apply different techniques that have been tested and explored over the ages. Across the world, theatre allows performers to push the boundaries and lets them journey into the unknown. Workshops are meant to be a process to unmask oneself by getting out of their comfort zone. Only then can they truly liberate themselves of their self image.”
He further goes on to explains, “In many workshops, complete nudity is a part of the self exploration process and complete surrender to the craft — devoid of ego, letting go of one’s body and seeing oneself from outside of it. This reaction by a participant is highly ridiculous and I fully stand by Vinay and Sutradhar. Perhaps it’s time that all theatre groups get a declaration from participants that they are fine with any exercises that are part of the workshop, a practice that we have been following at Dramanon since 2015.”