Friday, October 14, 2011

“The plays we do are for the ‘burger crowd’ and not a wider audience”

Sanwal Tariq, an NCA under-grad, gave a sterling performance as Oscar in Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple run in Alhamra Lahore last month. Together with Felix, he dominated the stage and kept the audience engaged in a way even actors from established theatre groups can’t. This was Sanwal’s umpteenth time on stage and he seems better each time. An aspiring filmmaker and actor, he candidly discusses his interest in acting, future plans and challenges.

The News on Sunday: What created your interest in acting?
Sanwal Tariq: “Created” is difficult to state. I seriously have no idea. Perhaps in the 7th grade when we performed ‘Royal Hunt in the Sun’, I had this really small role in which I had no lines, I just came on the stage and they killed me, that’s how it began.
TNS: What other plays have you been a part of?
ST: Never really counted how many plays I have done. In school I had been part of productions, in small roles as a news journalist and in A-levels I used to sit behind Omair Rana when he directed plays. I also wrote and directed a play called ‘Bhoot Manzil”, in A-levels, which was presented from Lahore Grammar Johar Town Branch in 2008 and at LUMS in 2009. It was about a lodge near the border area in Sialkot where people kept getting kidnapped.
TNS: Do you want to learn acting from abroad?
ST: Not sure, because right now I want to move to ad-making or directing short films. One has to be realistic and have short-term goals in Pakistan.
TNS: Do you get training as an actor in National College of Arts?
ST: I have joined Neo-transitional Mime at the college. I want to learn mime because it helps on flexibility and giving exaggerated expressions. It’s basically making a person believe in something that is not actually there. Then I joined ‘Alif Adaab’, a theatre-based society from where I have learnt the most.
TNS: Do you want to join TV at some point?
ST: (laughs) I have acted in two short episodes of a serial, it is fun and you actually get paid. But you cannot communicate with your audiences like you do on stage. However, there are no financial returns on stage.
TNS: Do you want to direct movies?
ST: Ten to fifteen years from now, yes, I want to make full-length feature films but right after graduation it isn't possible because no one will invest in me. They want to see a very strong portfolio before offering something so big.
TNS: Will theatre ever pay off in Pakistan?
ST: In Pakistan only tickets will bring profits. We need a culture of ticketing. ‘Noises off’ a play directed by Omair Rana and much publicised had a low turnout. People, who are even nominally successful, like Rana, are not directing plays regularly. Rana produced a play three years ago, and then last year and this year again he took a break. These stage successes must be frequent to reinforce a theatre-going culture.
The plays we do are for the ‘burger crowd’, people like me, from private schools and colleges and not a wider audience, without much large-scale impact. Much of our publicity is through word of mouth. For the Odd Couple we arranged streamers for marketing, but that can be only afforded through ticketing.
TNS: How much time and rehearsing does a play like the Odd Couple take?
ST: To be honest, it only took us one month of rehearsals after the cast was finalised. The production took two months. Not much effort was required, two hours of rehearsals each day. We wanted it to be fun and easy for everyone. The last week we ran for six hours at maximum but everyone had to learn his/her lines from home. But this too takes 15 or so minutes of practicing variations in front of the mirror and that’s all. It is always fun.
TNS: How much has the film-making course at NCA helped you?
ST: It has helped a lot since it prepares you for practical work. This practice helps in professional life. Production houses are fewer but there are many opportunities in TV, where even the weakest student can find a job. Independent movies should be encouraged. Independent movies are private endeavours by persons who put in money for a feature length movie about anything, fictitious or documentary. It will help in encouraging the film-making and cine-going culture.
TNS: What is the future of theatre in Pakistan as you see it?
ST: That I see? I don’t know. We were stupid or passionate enough, my group of friend and I, that we have been trying and working. We don’t know if we will do it again but our juniors have started working in productions. LGS people have taken initiatives.
TNS: The lot you come from and target (which you call ‘burger’), can afford the tickets, so what worries you?
ST: Yes they do but then they also have cell-phones, cigarettes and other expenditure priorities. They won’t go to watch a play just because the poster is appealing and we also don’t have big stars that can attract them. There are hardly any marketable theatre actors around.

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