A conversation with a diehard fan of Hindi theatre about Bajrang Bali Singh begins with a blank stare. “Bajrang?” he asks. “BR Ambedkar,” we suggest. The fan’s face lights up.
Ambedkar aur Gandhi, which explores the contrasting ideologies of the two national leaders against the backdrop of the Independence movement, is as popular as it is provocative. To audiences, Singh, 35, is “the actor who plays Ambedkar”.Though Singh has acted in a gamut of plays — being staged as part of the Summer Theatre Festival of Asmita theatre group — Ambedkar is tough to dwarf. Ambedkar aur Gandhi will be staged at Sri Ram Centre (SRC) on June 29.
“I remember the date I got Ambedkar’s role, July 19, 2009. The first show was at SRC,” says Singh. He was in his late 20s at the time and had quit his job at Wipro BPO because “one fine day, I realised that I was carrying myself to office, and this was not the life I had visualised
Singh plays Ambedkar as a steely statesman so convincingly on stage — a woman once met him after a show and came away exulting, “I shook hands with BR Ambedkar” — that one looks for traces of it when he is off character. Instead, one finds a carefree man without plans or burning ambition. “I come from an Indian Air Force family in Jodhpur and wanted to be a fighter pilot. When that didn’t happen, I had no other ambition. That may be the reason my favourite character is Kharey Babu in Ek Mamooli Aadmi (to be staged at SRC on July 6). He is full of life, has no future plans, no past baggage and inspires me to live in the present. I have a tiny bit of performance anxiety before every show but, with Kharey babu, I itch to get on stage,” he says.
For most of his life, Singh had never acted and rarely watched theatre. Like many amateur actors in Delhi, Singh enlisted with Asmita Theatre, run by the activist director Arvind Gaur. In a few weeks, he had landed his first role — in Final Solutions, as a part of a chorus that plays a Hindu and a Muslim mob of rioters. Ambedkar aur Gandhi happened a few months later. The play has travelled across India.
When he isn’t on stage, Singh is a voice-over artist and has taken his first steps in films. Khwaabb, in which he plays a coach, released earlier this month to a tepid response but the actor is determined to stay with films. His new play, Asmita’s Ye Aadmi Yeh Choohe, too, opened earlier this month with Singh playing a farmhand who carries out a brutal act in this adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. The play will be staged at SRC on July 12. “It’s a role that made me cry. It is incredible to live another character fully,” he says.
Asmita Summer Theatre Festival is being held at India Habitat Centre and Sri Ram Centre till July 13.
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