“Yatho Hasta thatho Drishti, Yatho Drishti thatho Manah
Yatho Manah thatho Bhaava, Yatho Bhaava thatho Rasa”
This Sanskrit shloka from ‘Naatyashastra’- (a detailed handbook on dramatic art that deals with all aspects of classical Sanskrit theatre) can be translated as-
“Where the hands are, go the eyes; where the eyes are, goes the mind; where the mind goes, there is an expression of inner feeling and where there is bhaava, mood or sentiment is evoked.”
Acting in a true sense is never about impersonating characters, but to use one’s senses wholly to recollect the sentiment of its existence and portray it just as it lives.
Sutradhar is one of a kind Acting Institute which acknowledges and resonates with this core philosophy, teaching the purest form of craft through a process of invoking simplistic and yet profound human values.
The Knowledge Review caught up with the Director of the institute, Vinay Varma, to explore its objectives, perspective, and commendable journey since its inception.
Trailing Back to the Fountainhead
Sutradhar was established with the intent of promoting home-grown talent. After realising that much talent in the entertainment industry was unnecessarily being imported from Mumbai, The institute recognised and ustilised ‘Theatre’ – the Mother of all performing arts to inculcate the values related to the medium. Recalling the early days of Sutradhar, Vinay says, “Initially, not many, including the media, took us seriously, despite my reasonable standing and contribution to theatre. But our consistency, perseverance, and never-say-die attitude paid off, as we were relentless in our pursuit.” Despite odds, the institute preferred quality over quantity in their intake, and they have stuck to that line ever since.
Even though Sutradhar had another vertical of Casting, they did not promise or guarantee a job, i.e., a role to any prospect. “Naturally, there was a lot of skepticism when we started, as many thought we were fly-by-night operators. The fact that we belonged to the field of Performing Arts, there was every possibility of lending credence to the thought,” adds Vinay. On the contrary, the institute never insisted on or even mentioned the fee, and its process of interviewing a prospect is still long enough.
Captain of the Ship
The Director or Chief Resource Person of Sutradhar- Vinay Varma, is a reputed theatre and Film personality. His single-minded focus on staying back in Hyderabad to create a niche and a talent catchment has started paying rich dividends. Even in the face of severe odds, he has meticulously stuck to ethical practices and taken a principled stand on training and promoting local talent.
Although his mother tongue is Hindi, he prefers to read film scripts in Telugu to get the right intonations, thereby leading by example to even those whose mother tongue is Telugu and still not comfortable reading.
Yet another case in point is his steadfast acknowledgment of theatre in his growth, which exemplifies his commitment to the craft at the expense of cinema. Meaning, that if he is committed to a theatre production, he has not abandoned it midway when offered a meaty role in films. And this is where he seems to have earned that well-deserved respect in the Industry.
Propelling Fuel of Sutradhar
Right from its inception, Sutradhar continued on its ventures persistently. While talking about the value construct and vision of the institute, Vinay explains, “The idea was to never give up, while maintaining a low profile, and not commercializing a fine art. Patience is a virtue that we keep emphasizing. We envision to see the local talent take the global platform.”
Sutradhar encourages and inculcates values such as punctuality, discipline, dedication, and endurance among its peers. Despite a fiercely competitive commercial aspect of the industry, the enigmatic institute has survived the onslaught from many commercial and reputed film institutes for over 23 years since its first workshop (in the year 1999), and its zealous journey continues.
Teaching to Live the Act
Sutradhar prioritises picking the best from the prospects and imparting training in small groups to maximise individual focus on assessment of peers. Vinay explains, “If someone who’s not a major and insists on a meeting, they are asked to be accompanied by the Parents. When we find that the participant is not yet ready for the Workshop, we counsel the parents against taking it up since it would not only be a drain on their purse, but the participant also himself would go through tough times.” The institute acknowledges that this scenario can take a toll on mental health since most participants have great expectations. Vinay asserts, “Good looks and physique is highly regarded among aspiring actors. However, they don’t realize that there is much more to acting than mere appearances. It is also painful to explain to someone, or their parents think that if they are not good at studies, they should take up acting because it is ‘easy’.”
Vinay believes that if one is looking to make money out of acting, initially, then they should stay out. He asserts, “Acting is a craft, where there’s no perfection. There’s vertical growth every time you perform. Take it up only if you’re willing to give up your comfort zone.”
Sutradhar strives to break cinema’s megalomania, bring students to ground zero, and then help them discover themselves. Towards this, the institute makes it imperative for the students to watch at least four theatrical productions and write about them to perceive what their understanding of the medium is. The process of teaching unlearning and learning begins when the peers observe actors holding the stage and holding fort LIVE for a couple of hours. Vinay believes that only then they would realize what goes into making one an actor.
Character and Intent
The USP of Sutradhar is NO ADVERTISEMENT. The institute believes that it takes time for good things to grow, and that it should stay strong, overcoming many handicaps. Vinay explains this idea as he explains, “The institutes’ intake being limited to a single digit is a great boon for the serious learner. The genuinely interested aspect is the aspect of life lessons that they learn from the Workshop. It breaks a lot of Myths surrounding the craft of Acting.”
The institute extensively emphasizes punctuality, which sets the ball rolling for a smooth day. Vinay believes that being honest with oneself is a quality that constantly drills the students’ minds. He also emphasises being true to oneself to propel the learning experience, enhancing observation and listening, making peers sensitively absorb and enact the lessons. He concludes by saying, “One who becomes a good human being can become a good actor too, for he becomes transparent and the honesty in performance can be easily felt.”
Comprehending the Roots
Sutradhar helps students to stay rooted and not be swayed by applause and think about the criticism that has come about. The institute believes that an actor must be prepared more for the world than harped only on the acting process.
At the infrastructure level, Sutradhar maintains a simplistic yet profound approach. The peers are first made to sweep the premises, taking turns every day. This inculcates the dignity of labour in them. The institute offers no chairs, but the seating is “Bharatiya Baithak.” Vinay asserts, “We don’t switch on the A/C so that they get the import of discomfort. Of course, we’ve basic amenities like a clean toilet and a more than decent pantry that offers tea, coffee, and simple snacks.”
Recognition and Laurels
Sutradhar has gained recognition and multiple awards, but the institute strives to focus on breaking barriers and setting peers on the path of excellence without expectations. Vinay addresses this thought, “we have never made a conscious attempt at getting awards. However, our awards come in the form of our talent, which is more than formally awarded.”
Some of the talent that has brought the institute laurels are:
Film editor Yashashwini Pathak, Vijay Varma, Sree Vishnu, Popular Telugu TV actor Chennamaneni Vasudev Rao, Vijay Devarakonda, Aditi Sharma (TV actress Kasam Tere Pyar ki), Anand Deverakonda, and many more.
Heading to the Future
Vinay expresses that Sutradhar would continue refraining by not changing goalposts in the face of competition and maintaining its profound character as an acting institute. He says, “Keeping up the dignity of the craft, sticking to the ethics and principles followed thus far. Much as we could, we never commercialized the goodwill earned over the last two decades. We will continue to assure intake quality and send them out as better citizens.”