AFTER HOURS

Romesh Kaul’s days are usually consumed by the forging of hot metal or the stamping of sheet metal into finished components, processes that require precision, attention to detail and a certain amount of innovation. Aspects that the CEO of the Forgings, Stampings and Composites division at Mahindra CIE is only too familiar with. “I was always very mechanically oriented and I decided to pursue electrical engineering because electronics was in vogue. Although I didn’t quite understand “electric current” and its flow, I remember being fascinated by the synchronised movement of gears and other parts and it is this visual appreciation which has a strong link with theatre,” says Romesh as he reminisces about his love for the stage

Romesh’s engineering talent may have been honed at IIT Delhi but his acting prowess was forged in the crucible of revolutionary theatre that characterised the 1970’s.

“I had an idyllic childhood in a small town called Udhampur near Jammu where my father was posted and it was here that I had my first brush with theatre and the arts. I was very fond of singing, especially film songs and later even ghazals. I loved watching films and imitating people and their unique mannerisms. I began participating in plays and Ram Leela productions and soon realised that I had an affinity for the stage. I was more inclined to the performing arts rather than other activities like swimming, boating, etc., much to the despair of my father,” he says with a tinge of nostalgia in his voice.

As Romesh grew older, he moved to a British missionary school in Srinagar which gave him ample opportunity to indulge his passion further. “I acted in both Hindi and English plays and especially remember enacting the role of a Postmaster in Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector which is perhaps one of my most memorable roles. However, the turning point was really when I came into contact with the legendary Safdar Hashmi and Prof. Jayaraman during my college days in Delhi. In fact, my wife was a student of Hashmi and it was through her that I got to know him. It was the beginning of a long and enduring relationship which was tragically cut short when he was killed in 1989.”

Hashmi had a profound influence on the young Romesh and changed the way he perceived stagecraft. “Hashmi was very passionate and intense. He was also very amiable and easy to get along with and his students adored him. He had a unique way of explaining things. For instance, he would demonstrate how things relate to each other by showcasing their juxtaposition through photos. I still remember how he created the aura of a palace for the Chinese play, Orphan of Chao, through artful use of lights, minimal props and effective dialogue. For a Brecht play, he had to create a sense of time passing and he did this by getting the main characters to circumnavigate the stage. He also taught me a lot about voice modulation. I was planning to do a street play with him when I got the news that he had died.”

Romesh’s talent found further expression during his studies at IIT Delhi. Blessed with a keen visual and spatial sense, he opted to study Design but found that it involved too much differential math to sustain his interest for long. His attempt to switch to Industrial Engineering didn’t, however, work out. This gave him plenty of time to focus on theatre.

“It was perhaps the most creatively enriching time as I got to work with stalwarts like M.K. Raina, Ravi Vaswani, Ranjeet Kapoor, Anupam Kher and Habib Tanvir. In fact, I learnt a great deal from Habib Saab including how to advance a story by means of musical interludes and how to use music to convey a broad theme substantiated by dialogue. He was a stickler for perfection. Moreover, one of my most memorable roles during my time at IIT was that of Savitri in the play Do Yamraajo ki Bhidhant! As it was an all-male hostel, we had to take on all the female roles as well which proved to be an interesting experience. Unfortunately, as a result I got stuck with the moniker of Savitri for the rest of my college days!” he laughs.

“My only regret is that I didn’t get to perform Shakespeare”

“Although I could never consider acting full time, theatre was a very important part of my formative years and remains a huge influence on my life.”

It was during his time at IIT that Romesh got the opportunity to expand his theatrical talent through direction and production. “Ravi Vaswani who acted in the iconic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, would host a 24 hour theatre festival every Leap Day, i.e. February 29 and he invited me to stage Badal Sircar’s play Bhoma at the Sriram Centre auditorium. The play was well received and we even staged it at IIT Kanpur. Aside from direction, I was also involved with props, production and lighting which gave me a holistic view of theatre and stagecraft,” says the theatre enthusiast who is also a keen tailor. “I have always had a deep interest in garment design and fabrication which I undertake on a regular basis. I guess this is the result of a strong spatial and visual sense, qualities that are also important for the stage.”

Although Romesh has had little opportunity to take to the stage since his college days, his love for the craft has never waned. “Theatre teaches you a great deal about life. It helps you deal with people and understand them better. It hones your ability to relate to them better. It’s also a great stress buster and though I don’t act or direct anymore, I do organise play readings with other theatre enthusiasts.”

Any regrets? “My only regret is that I didn’t get to perform Shakespeare. This was mostly because by the time I began college the world had moved to a left leaning, communist

way of thinking and most of the plays staged had a distinctly revolutionary tone. Also, at that time theatre was not viewed as a very viable profession unlike today when young people have so many options. Although I could never consider acting full time, theatre was a very important part of my formative years and remains a huge influence on my life,” he concludes.