Conversations@theDSM has brought theatre veterans and raw talent together to discuss myriad nuances of drama and theatre. Last week, actor Shernaz Patel came to DSM to speak on theatre and share her experiences.

Shernaz was interviewed by Manjiri Pupala, a talented actress and an award-winning documentary film-maker. With a gathering of 50 people, Shernaz was able to mesmerise the audience by narrating tales from her early theatre days.

The conversation started with Shernaz reminiscing growing up with her parents. Ruby and Burjor Patel both legends of Gujarati theatre. She fondly recalls, “I have grown up in green rooms, watching my parents perform.”

“What makes you feel so comfortable on stage?” Manjiri asked next. She said, “As a kid, it was extremely weird to see my parents romancing other people on stage. But as I grew older, I understood the level of education and professionalism they got with themselves.”

“I am so comfortable on stage because I feel I was born there.”

The conversation then proceeded to Shernaz’s long and fulfilling acting career. Ask about opening nights and Shernaz says she spends most of them in the bathroom since she is very nervous. She adds, “Opening nights are nerve-wracking for me. I am constantly thinking about how the audience will react, what the response will be or will I be able to perform well? All these questions keep going around in the head. But at the end, I know I just have to go on stage and enjoy the play.”

“How do you prepare for a character?” Shernaz was quick to respond to that. She said she loves to research and her characters give her the ability to deconstruct the text given to her. Shernaz feels that her love for research stems from her eternal love for literature. That’s what helped her truly understand all her characters and their shades.

Shernaz has also spent a year abroad learning acting at Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

She shares, “Having brought up watching Gujarati theatre, the most valuable lesson I learned was how to perfect one thing and stick to it. When my instructor (at Royal Scottish) mentioned to bring change every time, I was confused. I just thought to be myself, and go by my instinct instead of the instruction. That’s when the world changed for me;” She adds, “Actors have a fantastic instinct. We should trust it, and go by that.”

The conversation kept its momentum with Shernaz on the edge of her seat all the time reminiscing, laughing, sharing and being nostalgic.

In 1993, Shernaz with her co-actor Rajit Kapoor and Rahul Da Cunha founded RAGE, a theatre group based out of Mumbai. When asked about the others and the company, she says, “We are a family. We are very critical of each other. But having three creative minds, solutions come up easily at RAGE.”

Shernaz also pointed out how important it is for co-actors to also be friends off-stage. It builds a better rapport and leaves space for understanding. If you are strong with your co-actors, it leads to a better, free-flowing engagement onstage that’s a treat to watch.

Manjiri, who has worked with Shernaz Patel mentioned how she would help out with the smallest of things despite being the producer of the show. Shernaz shared that these etiquettes come from people they’ve shared their time with.

On being every actor’s favourite producer, Shernaz says, “As a producer, my job is to make sure everything flows smoothly, and people do their part in the best way they can. Actors are just meant to go out on stage and perform their best; not do other things, yaar.”

RAGE’s initiative for playwrights, Writer’s Bloc is a residency training programme and festival that completed its 15th year in 2017. Shernaz mentioned how difficult it is to sustain a festival that brings together writers and theatre practitioners from all around the world. However, they feel rewarded when the participants go out, produce or write plays and make their mark in theatre. That’s when you know you are doing something right, and it is working.

To end the evening she urged all the enthusiastic, young and impatient theatre lovers to stick to the art and practise it regularly to do great. “Good work take many years of practise and doesn’t really happen overnight,” she concluded.