Interview with Barry John
Posted by Vivek on May 20, 2009 | 3 Comment
The move from Delhi to Mumbai was rather traumatic, perhaps because it was so sudden. Although we (my partner Sanjay Sujitabh and I) had earlier contemplated shifting in 2002, it eventually happened so fast that for a few months in 2007 we were operating in both places. I have still not completely shifted out of Delhi ; many books and possessions are stored there. As yet, there is no SPACE for them in Mumbai. Space is rare (and expensive) entity here.
Initially I was alienated and uncomfortable, living out of a suitcase in my partner’s flat. Many flat societies in Mumbai refuse to rent out premises to actors or bachelors, so it was a couple of months before I could find decent, affordable accommodation.
Mumbai is just too many people competing in too little space! The only way is up. Crumbling buildings and slums are replaced by luxury high rise apartments that few can afford, and that lie empty ironically. The roads and ‘highways’ are narrow, poorly maintained and congested. It takes about two hours to get from Andheri into the Fort area. There are open stinking nalas which flood onto the roads during the long monsoons. During my first monsoon here, I fell down an open manhole while walking down a flooded road. I might have disappeared forever.
Should I extend this list? Suffice it to say, I was homesick for Delhi , for my friends there, and for its superior standard of theatre.
On the professional front, things have been more positive. My partner designed and fabricated excellent spaces and facilities for the school. They are part of the school’s enviable reputation that we enjoy. The content of the courses has been continually developed, responding to the demand for a greater emphasis on film acting. Compared to Delhi, the students here are more aware and more committed, which comes from being in the heart of the film and television industries. They know what it takes and are not burdened by illusions.
A further development in our work is the growing demand for pre-production film workshops. This typically involves training for ‘newcomers’, as well as preparation work on character and relationships. Sometimes it involves rehearsals of key scenes from the screenplay.
One of India’s finest actor, aka yourself, is rarely seen in front of the camera, why is that so?
Let’s face it: no “foreigner” is going to make it big in Bollywood. For a long time I never felt comfortable acting for camera. This has begun to change since being in Mumbai. I have played cameo roles in five films over the last couple of years:
“THE GREAT INDIAN BUTTERFLY”
“THE MAN WHO SHOT TO FAME”
What gives you the greatest creative “high”, films, theater, acting or directing?
All of the categories are creative “highs”, each in their own way. For me, one thing led to another. Having founded my own group, the passion for acting was overridden by the need to direct. My contentment with working in the theatre has now been overridden by the desire to direct films. I also achieve highs in teaching and writing. If you’re ‘high’ does it matter what the stimulant is?
Do we see a potential director in Barry John, from the Indian film scenario?
I have already anticipated this question. Beginning with some short film projects, which will function as self-training for myself and my company, we hope to graduate to low- budget feature-length films.
From training the kids in Salaam Bombay, to acting in Gandhi, summarize your journey in the Indian film industry? Including influencing the actors who now set the Indian screen ablaze?
My journey in the Indian film industry has, to date, been sporadic and peripheral. It was never a career objective and always a matter of chance. For the ‘Raj ‘films, directors had me and Tom Alter to choose from, for many years at least. So I was in “SHATRANJ KE KHILADI”, “MASSEY SAHIB”, “TAMAS”, “GANDHI”, etc.
I was involved with “SALAAM BOMBAY” because Mira Nair had acted in several TAG plays in the 1970′s and knew of my work with children. Similarly Shah Rukh got me involved in the training workshop for ‘MOHABATTEIN’.
For the rest, it is the happy lot of the teacher / director who sees his actors move on in their careers and build on the foundations that he has laid down. It is payback for the time and effort invested, and the poverty endured.