Theatre's maverick philosopher-teacher, film-writer-director, a Padma Bhushan recipient and fiercely individualistic legend at 75, Pandit Satyadev Dubey looks back to look ahead. He also talks about a book on himself, authored by reputed theatre critic and writer Shanta Gokhale, that is scheduled to be out this month.
How would you define yourself today?
Well, it's funny that you ask this question.
Day before yesterday I spent a sleepless night trying to sort of see who I am or talk to myself and I came to the conclusion that I have done nothing in my life. Everything has happened to me. A series of co-incidences including my coming to Bombay (from Bilaspur). I wanted to join St Xavier's College and take English Literature and Hindi. Surprisingly the only other person who had this combination of subject was Vijay Anand (filmmaker). So obviously I became a chamcha of Vijay Anand and he looked after me. So it was fine.
Then of course I came to know Uma Anand, Chetan Anand, Dev Anand and the entire family.
And then Vijay Anand became big and kept on becoming bigger and I realised that, without his trying to, my position is becoming of a servant. I had no complaints against Vijay Anand or the family. And I remembered Prem Chand's story that you get a lot of rights but you do not realise that the right belongs to somebody else.
And ultimately I was ambitious and in short I kept on trying to find my own identity.
The Gujarati group helped me a lot even by challenging me. 'Tu bau baat karre che'. Now do something'. And I took the challenge and I translated a play by Pirandello. And that became my first production. And slowly I shifted towards theatre.
So theatre in a way chose you as much as you chose theatre.
Ya, exactly. Good way of putting it.
(The illustrious line-up of students who came out of or interacted with 'Dubey's school of learning' were Amrish Puri, Amol Palekar, Chitra Palekar, Sunila Pradhan, Bhakti Barve, Ratna Pathak Shah, Naseeruddin Shah, Sunil Shanbag, Kishore Kadam.)
My most enduring image is of Dubey the teacher who is running after the world to take from him. Did your destiny as a teacher satiate you? Was there a student or students who could match your hunger for teaching with their hunger for learning in equal measure?
Ya. Well, I would say that somewhere deep down I have always been a teacher and it's a role which I continuously play in real life also. Even in my casual conversation I am a teacher. And it so happens that without trying I have changed the lives of a lot of people. People get shocked when I compare teaching to sex. My famous quote is -- 'The problem with teaching and acting is the same as in sex. People only talk. But it has to be done'.
You cannot teach without having a good student. And you cannot learn without a good teacher. I have had fantastic teachers and fantastic students who still carry on excellent work. Amrish Puri, of course. Ratna has been my favourite actress. To mention one name, Sunil Shanbag. I would say that Sunil Shanbag is the person whose career I am fond of and would like to see his plays. I would like to see him grow. He is a challenge. He is still doing very fine work though I don't think he has taken anything directly from me. The point is when you are teaching it is like 'Aerial seeding'. You seed the entire area and you never know when things will sprout.
So they all have taken from you even if to reject later.
Ya, that is what even unfortunately a Rajneesh used to say: 'don't get carried away with me; you must find your own path'. And a lot of people found their own path and one of them is Mahesh Bhatt, from U G Krishnamurti.
The point is people tend to stick to the teacher. And that is disastrous. Unless you are searching for your own path you will never find anything. Then you will keep on repeating what the teacher has said. And it will lead the future students nowhere and it will lead the current teachers nowhere.
Because there was nothing called a syllabus in my teaching people would ask interesting questions. And therefore I found interesting answers. And of course since I had a lot of experience of theatre I was also a very entertaining teacher. And therefore my teaching went across. And whether it is the NSD or Theatre Unit everywhere I have been very lucky. I have never consciously taught. I have entertained friends and got entertained. And this give and take according to me is better than sex. Though people prefer sex, but, that's sad.
Tell us about your future projects.
I am getting old. I have made this film called Ram Naam Satya Hai. And I think it will make a mark. Ram Naam Satya Hai may very well be my Ram Naam Satya Hai, but, the point is there is always a desire to make a film. This too is in Marathi. It's my commitment to Maharashtra. Somewhere it's the Marathi people and to some extent, the Gujarati people who gave me an identity. My teaching has flowered more amongst the Marathi students.
Of course, the fact is that Marathi women have always been beautiful. It helps if students are attractive and responsive then you don't have to have sex with them. You can talk. And that talk is the most important thing and you have to be entertaining and somewhere give insights. Unknowingly, you give insights.
This month, a book on me is lined up for release. It is written by a reputed theatre critic and writer Shanta Gokhale. I have not read it. I would like to.
Is it focused on some aspect or is it a biography?
I don't really know. I hope to buy the first copy and then know about myself as Shanta knew me.
Trust you do not know the title?