Man of many Avatars

Man of many Avatars

Actor-singer Shekhar Sen,who brings medieval poets alive on stage,plays Soordas in a new play

Shekhar Sen’s career has followed the trajectory of a disillusioned soul that has eventually found peace in spirituality. Sen came to Mumbai in 1979 from Raipur with dreams of becoming a music composer. After years of struggle with the prevalent popular music of the ’80s and three shelved projects,he sought his own path.

“There were numerous factors and departments that were beyond my control,” says Sen,who is today a theatre actor,director and musician,all rolled into one. He writes and directs plays based on medieval poets and philosophers. In these productions,he sings and plays all roles by himself.

His latest play Soordas premiered on Friday at National Centre for Performing Arts,Mumbai. It will travel to Delhi in July.

Sen’s journey on the stage began when he,while trying to move on after Bollywood,found resonance in the poetry of Tulsidas,Kabir and other great medieval poets. He became attracted to the charms of Awadhi,Maithili and Brijwasi and the profound messages of the poet-saints and philosophers. Sen started composing devotional songs around this literature,and presenting research-oriented musical programmes.


He gradually found an audience in India and abroad. On a trip to the US with his parents,he saw a Chinese person recite Tulsidas’ Ramayana. “I wondered how many of us,back in India,knew Tulsidas well?” he says. On his arrival in India,he wrote a rough draft on the life of Tulsidas,which he turned into a play.

“I initially just wrote it with 52 songs and more than two hours of stage time. It was a single-act musical play. I had in mind actors such as Annu Kapoor and Raghubir Yadav who could sing as well,” he says. Sen had internalised the character of Tulsidas so well that he,with a little push from Hindi litterateur Dharamvir Bharti,decided to play it himself.

“The characters choose me,I don’t choose whom I should play next,” says the 51-year-old. He wanted to play the character of Buddha,but realised it wasn’t meant to be done by him,and moved in to play Soordas. In the play’s publicity stills,he appears in a saffron attire,with eyes drooping to the extent that he appears blind. In his popular productions,Sen has played Kabir and Vivekananda too.

For Sen,who grew up in a musical environment thanks to his musicologist parents,the idea of a mono-act musical play appears true to the original form. “If you see the Natya Shastra or the Bauls,they are all single-act plays. Performers act and sing at the same time. In the West,” he says. Besides,the immediacy with which one has to switch between dialogues and songs,can be best done by one actor.