Art & Entertainment

9 Theatre Artists Who Have Also Carved A Niche For Themselves In Cinema

As people from all over celebrate World Theatre Day on March 27, meet these stalwarts who have found success beyond the stage.

Ashutosh Rana, Seema Pahwa, Pankaj Tripathi
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The National School of Drama (NSD), India's pioneering theatre institute has produced some of the finest actors in the industry including Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Pankaj Kapur, and Irrfan Khan. The trajectory of these actors took them beyond the realm of theatre and today their accomplishments in cinema and across entertainment formats, illuminate the path of many aspiring actors.

As everyone celebrates World Theatre Day on March 27, we celebrate more such actors with theatrical roots who have enriched cinema and the performing arts in all their diversity.

Raghubir Yadav

Raghubir Yadav spent over 13 years at the National School of Drama as an actor, musician, and costume designer, he was part of a travelling Parsi theatre that he had joined at the age of 15 after running away from home. Here he was happy to earn just a few rupees in exchange for a rich creative life. After acting in 40 plays in over 2000 shows between 1977 and 1986, he has today evolved as a multifaceted artist, singer, music composer, set designer and a lot more. But he still looks back fondly at his years in the NSD repertory where he performed plays like 'Tughlak' and 'Andha Yug'. This connection with theatre continues to date and he can be seen in Zee Theatre’s popular teleplay, ‘Bagiya Bancharam Ki’. He is also remembered for 'Massey Sahib (1985) where he debuted opposite none other than Arundhati Roy. In 1989, he went on to immortalise the protagonist of the iconic Doordarshan comedy, 'Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne'. Be it films like 'Lagaan', 'Salaam Bombay', 'Firaq', 'Dharavi', 'Bandit Queen', 'Peepli Live’ or the recent web series, 'Panchayat - 2', he has always stood out, thanks to his polished histrionics.

Mita Vashisht

Whether she is playing ‘Durgeshwari’ or ‘Bai Saab’, in Zee Theatre’s teleplay Agnipankh, or working in films, this National School of Drama graduate unerringly makes an impact. Her passion for theatre abides till date and her acclaimed performance in the solo play Lal Ded (based on life of medieval Kashmiri poet Lal Ded) bears testimony to that. Her own NSD training helped her shine even in a brief cameo in Yash Chopra's 1987 hit 'Chandni’, in Govind Nihalani’s ‘Drishti' and 'Drohkaal', Mani Kaul’s ‘Siddheshwari', Kumar Shahni's 'Khayal Gaatha' and countless commercial and independent films. On television, she is remembered for Shyam Benegal's 'Bharat Ek Khoj', Mahesh Bhatt's 'Swabhimaan’, 'Star Bestsellers' and many popular daily serials like ‘Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii.’ Her recent performance in the OTT film 'Goodluck Jerry' and in the web series, 'Criminal Justice' display her range as an actor.

Himani Shivpuri

This theatre and film veteran has the ability to make every role, regardless of its size, memorable. She remembers her National School of Drama days fondly when she learnt everything from production work, lighting and acting and worked with legends like BV Karanth, M. K. Raina, Surekha Sikri and Uttara Baokar. From realistic plays to stylized musicals, she was a part of a charmed creative universe. One of her most cherished experiences was performing the role of Desdemona in 'Othello', in a small village before a rural audience that responded to the story with intuitive intelligence. In the 80s, cameos in Shyam Bengal's Doordarshan serial 'Yatra' and in Lekh Tandon's 'Phir Wohi Talaash' led to a full-blown film career but she still makes time to work in Zee theatre's teleplays like 'Hamidabai Ki Kothi’ and ‘Rishton Ka Live Telecast.’

Tannishtha Chatterjee

Tannishtha's love for theatre co-exists with her passion for cinema. Her roles in the Zee Theatre teleplays, ‘Guy In The Sky’ and ‘Mera Kuch Saaman’ or in Zee5 web series, 'Parchhayee' establish her as a versatile actor. She announced her arrival as a talent to watch out for in Academy Award-winning German director Florian Gallenberger's film Shadows of Time (2004) and the British film Brick Lane (2007). She has acted in acclaimed films like 'Gour Hari Dastaan’, ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’, ‘Parched’, ‘Chauranga', 'Gulaab Gang','Dekh Indian Circus', 'Jal' and ‘Road, Movie'. As a director too, has made her mark with 'Roam Rome Mein' her debut feature which premiered at the 24th Busan International Film Festival in 2019.

Ashutosh Rana

This star alumnus of NSD and a protege of Pandit Satyadev Dubey was a huge draw at Prithvi Theatre before he created a sensation on television with a breakout role in ‘Swabhimaan' (1995) and the big screen with Dushman (1998) and Sangharsh (1999). Rana believes that an actor should not be restricted to any medium and continues to work in theatre to date and can be seen in Zee Theatre's teleplay 'Purush' in a chilling, negative role. Be it TV shows like ‘Apradhi Kaun’ or memorable performances in theatre and cinema across industries like Marathi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, he has never failed to impress. His latest triumph is of course the superhit Shah Rukh Khan starrer, ‘Pathaan’.

Piyush Mishra

When Piyush Mishra was a student at the National School of Drama, he did not know how multi-faceted his career was going to be. From a career-defining performance in and as 'Hamlet' on stage in the early 80s, he went on to work in TV shows like 'Firdaus' and 'Kabhi Door Kabhi Paas.' Today he is not just celebrated as a poet, singer, lyricist, playwright, musician and screenwriter but has directed many plays, including for theatre group Act One. His one-man show 'An Evening with Piyush Mishra', and his role in Swadesh Deepak's 'Court Martial' remain one of the many high points of his theatrical career. In films too, he makes every moment before the camera count, whether he is playing a corrupt music Moghul in 'Rockstar' or etching unforgettable characters in films like 'Dil Se', 'Matrubhoomi', 'Maqbool', 'Gulaal’, ‘Gangs of Wasseypur', 'Tamasha', 'Pink' and 'Sanju'.

in Bihar's Belsand village, Pankaj’s first brush with acting was in amateur plays where he often played a girl. In Class 12, the play 'Andha Kuan' kindled a passion for acting within him and in the years to come he divided his time between a hotel kitchen and theatre. To be able to join the National School of Drama, he completed his graduation and then enrolled in NSD. Today, he credits his success to the lessons he imbibed as a theatre actor. After an uncredited role in Run (2004), and fleeting appearances in films like 'Omkara', 'Apaharan’, ‘Dharm', 'Mithya', 'Shaurya', 'Raavan' and 'Aakrosh', he hit the spotlight with a breakthrough part in Anurag Kashyap’s crime epic, ‘Gangs of Wasseypur' 1-2. Whether he is playing genial patriarchs in films like 'Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl ‘Stree’ or 'Bareilly Ki Barfi ‘, stealing scenes in 'Newton' and 'Mimi' or dominating the OTT space with 'Mirzapur’ (1 and 2), ‘Sacred Games’, and 'Criminal Justice’ (all three series), he is proving that success comes to those who don't stop dreaming.

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Sanjay Mishra

Before he became the favourite of today's independent film-makers in films like 'Ankhon Dekhi', 'Masaan', 'Vadh', 'Anaarkali of Aarah', 'Kamyaab' and many more, Sanjay Mishra was a National School of Drama alumni. The discipline of doing theatre and preparing extensively to get into the skin of a character has held him in good stead in cinema too. For instance, to prepare for his role in 'Masaan', he lived away from the unit and considered a daily dip in the Ganga as his 'make-up'! His fondness for rehearsals also comes from his theatrical background. First seen in a minor cameo in Ketan Mehta’s ‘Oh Darling Yeh Hai India' (1995), he went on to become a recognizable face on TV with ‘Office Office’ and also regaled audiences as Apple Singh, an ‘icon' used by ESPN Star Sports during the 1999 Cricket World Cup. Today he is a creative force who is being offered lead roles in brave, independent films and is enjoying the respect he always deserved.

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Seema Pahwa

before India’s first soap opera 'Hum Log' made her a household name in 1984, Seema Bhargava was an active part of the theatre group Sambhav and her relationship with theatre continues to date. In 2015 for instance, this former student of National School of Drama, organised Bhishmotsav to mark the centenary of her favourite author Bhisham Sahani and staged a collection of his short stories. After marrying her 'Hum Log' co-star Manoj Pahwa and focusing on motherhood, she did take a short break but soon appeared on the small screen in daily soaps like 'Kasamh Se’ and graced the stage in experimental theatre performances like Bhisham Sahni's 'Saag Meat'. She has also worked with Naseeruddin Shah's theatre group Motley and her film career spans films like 'Sardari Begum,' 'Godmother', 'Ankhon Dekhi', 'Bareilly Ki Barfi’, ‘Shubh Mangal Saavdhan' and more recently 'Gangubai Kathiawadi.' After making her directorial debut with 'Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi' in 2019, she directed six stories by Manto, Premchand and Harishankar Parsai for Zee Theatre's literary anthology of dramatic readings, 'Koi Baat Chale.'

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