The pioneer of method acting in India, and founder of an acting school in Mumbai that trained several renowned actors of the Hindi film industry, Roshan Taneja died in Mumbai on May 10, two months after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was 87.
His wife Mithika Taneja and sons Rohit and Rahul Taneja survive him.
Founded in 1976, after he left the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune in 1975, the Roshan Taneja School of Acting in Mumbai has trained some of the legends of the screen — from Naseeruddin Shah, Jaya Bachchan, Shabana Azmi, Shatrughan Sinha, Subhash Ghai, Om Puri, Asrani and Mithun Chakraborty to Aamir Khan, Ajay Devgn, Anil Kapoor, Benjamin Gilani, Govinda and Danny Denzongpa.
More than 55 years ago, when acting was hardly thought of as a viable profession, Taneja went to New York to train in acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. One of his teachers was Sanford Meisner, known for the Meisner technique of acting, another was the Oscar-winning director Sydney Pollack.
“He returned to India hoping to become an actor. Fate never helped him on that front,” said Rohit Taneja, his son and a director of Roshan Taneja School.
In 1961, the Union government started the Film Institute of India in Pune – it subsequently became the FTII – and Taneja was roped in to found the acting department in 1963. “He didn’t really want to teach. He wanted to be an actor but destiny forced him to become a teacher…. From then, it became his priority in life,” Rohit recalled.
Rohit recalled his father as a figure of strength, extremely sensitive, patient and caring, as well as a strict disciplinarian to both his students and his sons.
Taneja was eight when the family migrated from the North West Frontier Province, now in Pakistan, before Partition after his father got a job with a sugar mill in Kanpur. His father wanted Taneja to go on to get a secure, safe and stable government job but the aspiring actor chose differently.
Popular theatre and TV actor Rakesh Bedi, who was a student of Taneja’s last batch at FTII, called him the “first man who introduced formal training in acting” in India. Bedi said, “Like so many other actors, I owe him a lot. We had so many preconceived notions about acting. He taught us how to be a complete actor so that one can step into any role. His teaching method was fantastic. It was a mix of Konstantin Stanislavski and the New York school of acting.”
Actor Anil Dhawan, whose performance in last year’s ‘Andhadhun’ was widely appreciated, recalled: “I was completely raw when I joined FTII. He made me Anil Dhawan, the actor. He was very persistent and gave attention to every actor. A disciplinarian, he would not give up until he got the expression he wanted from a student..”
Taneja, Dhawan said, was very passionate about training youngsters and had no “commercial motive”.
After teaching acting for more than half-a-century, Taneja decided to bow out smiling. “After the doctor told him that he had only a few months left, he wanted to spend the (remaining) time surrounded with joy and laughter. That’s how it was – he was hale and hearty and living a normal life until he slipped into deep illness and passed away,” Rohit said.
FTII director Bhupendra Kainthola said, “In 2017, FTII held a big event on the campus when Mr Taneja released his autobiography. The function was anchored by Tom Alter. His contribution to FTII is immeasurable.”