IT’S not the sky that Raghubir Yadav has his eyes set on, but it’s the ground. It’s where he searches for himself, where he believes there’s much to do and experience. The thirst and hunger to learn, says Yadav, never stops, as he savours life through theatre, films, and music.
Yadav was in Chandigarh for ‘Cine Maestro: Shaping Future Filmmakers’, an inter-school filmmaking competition at Chitkara International School. It’s a social enterprise initiated by Amitabha Singh — cinematographer and producer, known for Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006) and Chillar Party (2011) — who believes the programme provides “films to aid learning and learning to make films”.
“It’s a new world that I view when I watch films by young people, and marvel at the talent they have. We are of a different era, we had to struggle to even watch a play or film, not to mention the opportunity to learn. It is wonderful to see how technology and digital platforms have enhanced opportunities for young talent,” says Yadav, about the films that the students had made as part of the competition.
Many of today’s small-budget films, says the actor, are made because young filmmakers understand the world intently, are in sync with the time and its problems and this work in turn, he says, enhances the understanding of what is around us. “Less business and more quality is the need of the hour, for there are so many 200-crore films that you cannot survive for more than half an hour and many excellent small-budget films do not get released,” says Yadav, 62. His most recent outing in films is Bengali filmmaker Suman Ghosh’s Hindi film, Aadhaar, which is travelling to the Busan International Film Festival in October.
For someone who has won several awards, has performed as an actor and singer in over 70 plays and about 2,500 shows with the Parsi Theatre Company, Yadav looks back at a journey and life where even getting basic schooling was a challenge. The norm then was to work in a factory after a basic education, get married and have children. “I didn’t want that life. I remember when the Parsi Theatre Company came to our town in Jabalpur and I decided to work there for Rs 2.50 a day, moving from village to village, playing so many parts, sometimes in pits and many a time in the wilderness. I was with them for more than six years,” says Yadav.
Those days were magical, he says. He learnt the nuances of acting, theatre music from his ustad, who also taught him to live with abandon, love, joy, with no single goal or manzil. Cinema, at this point, began to fascinate him, and Yadav says he wanted to be a gatekeeper at a cinema hall, simply so he could watch all movie shows. “I wanted to be an actor, but for that I was told by my ustad that I needed to learn everything. I had a rural dialect and to improve my diction, I learnt how to write and read Urdu. I began working with a puppet theatre company in Lucknow, and that’s where I learnt about National School of Drama (NSD), which I joined in 1974. The rest, as they say, is history,” says the actor, who has also been music composer, singer and set designer.
Yadav was part of the NSD repertory for years, with theatre guiding his creative instincts, and he was completely satisfied with his life on stage. With his debut in Pradip Krishen’s Massey Sahib in 1985, it opened the doors of cinema for him. Yadav admits it wasn’t easy to make the transition, as the medium was new and the way of acting completely different from stage. “But because of theatre, I could grasp a lot and for the next 15 years, cinema consumed me, and somehow, I could not do theatre. As an actor, I am never satisfied, every time I watch my films; I feel I could have done every role better and with more finesse,” he says. After so many years in the field, Yadav says he doesn’t understand the barriers that are created regarding parallel, commercial and art cinema. The idea he believes is to make good cinema, encourage new talent and give the audience an experience that is honest.
Yadav is now back on stage. It’s where he truly belongs, he says. His play Piano is travelling across the country. He is also working on another production, Sanam Dub Gaye, and is attempting to give young writers a platform to showcase their work. “People talk of lack of original scripts for theatre, but that’s because many of us don’t read the powerful work that is being written. My effort is to bring on stage the work of young writers.”