He used to be called “Sethi make-up wala” but, after acting in more than 500 plays over 40 years, Parvesh Sethi has become an acting veteran as well. He has become a proud winner of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (2012) for acting and make-up. The 69-year-old, who has had no formal training in theatre, uses this moment to look back on his journey on the stage.
He had been one of the main actors ever since he was in school. His first major play as an actor was Tagore’s Muktadhara in 1961. “I had shifted to Chandigarh from Rohtak, and the play was directed by Dr Mehndiratta. It marked the start of my journey in theatre in the city,” says Sethi, Secretary, Chandigarh Sangeet Natak Akademi. While he learnt the intricacies of acting and stage management from different directors and formally from Master Hansraj, Sethi says Balwant Gargi influenced him immensely, chiselling many rough edges. The nuances of theatre make-up, which Sethi is well- known for, was picked up from Indu Ghosh of Delhi’s National School of Drama.
Sethi says that for any actor, it’s tough to choose a favourite role. After pausing to ponder, he says that playing the role and character of Col Surat Singh in the play Court Martial has been a high point of his acting career. “In January, we will be doing the 400th show of the play and it’s a moment of pride,” says Sethi, adding that his role in Katha Ek Kans Ki has also been special.
As a close observer of theatre trends in India and abroad, Sethi says there has been a sea change in acting techniques and methods. Sethi, who considers Manohar Singh one of the greatest theatre actors, reflects how acting used to be loud and over-the-top earlier. “At present, the emphasis is on being more natural, and the focus is on expressions rather than gestures. With advances in technology, actors have more scope to modulate their voices and experiment with their style of acting and body movements,” he feels.
Make-up too was a neglected art form till a few decades ago. “Today, it is an indispensable part of a fine production, with the technique becoming more sophisticated. It also ensures the livelihood of a large number of young people,” says Sethi. He is optimistic about the rising popularity of theatre as plays are drawing full houses and experimental theatre is gaining popularity with audiences. “We’ve had almost 28 theatre festivals in Chandigarh in the last couple of years. That’s a great indicator of the resounding response,” he says.
Sethi will now act his own age in Sandhya Chhaya, a play about a couple living on their own as their children stay abroad. “Theatre is my lifeline and I will continue to act as long as I live,” concludes Sethi.