Vishal Shah, popularly known as a Theatre Actor from Ahmedabad, has acted in a total of 18 Theatre Productions. At the young age of 26, he has already been in 12 Lead roles; also a parallel lead and supporting actor in several others. He has worked with some of the best Theatre Directors such as Rajoo Barot, Kabir Thakore Harin Thaker and Kajal Oza Vaidya. Apart from the theatre, he has done 5 short films, 2 feature films, and 3 Ad films. Wearing the Teacher’s Hat, he has done about 30 theatre workshops. He had received the Transmedia Best Actor for Gujarati Stage & Screen Award in 2015.
As he watches films, plays, observes people, and travels as a part of work, Vishal doesn’t have a spare hobby like everyone else. In his free time, he tries to hang out and chill with his loved ones. We, the folks at CollegeBol.com, got him for a chat to hear more about his dramatic journey from Chartered Accountancy to Theatre to finding acting as a meaning of his life.
What’s your story? How did you become a Theatre Actor in Ahmedabad?
I was that kind of a kid who always wanted his share of fame. I used to dance and participate in the drama too and always wanted to be the center of attention. My friends and I wanted to get into HLIC (One of the Best Commerce Colleges in Ahmedabad) after school. But We hadn’t score good enough marks to get into the merit list. My friends took admission in SMPIC and my score was so less that even that was impossible. The very thought that I will be separated from my friends, made me do one crazy thing.
One day, during the admission season, I went straight into the principal’s cabin. I said, “Sir I want admission in your college by any means.” He asked, “Do you have any sports or arts background?” In those moments of a strong adrenaline rush, I managed to tell him that I can dance and act. That’s how I got admission- on the ‘acting seat’. The condition was that I will represent the college in all the plays.
What happened when they actually approached you for a college event?
A few months later, a professor came looking for me in the class. The Youth Festival was coming by and they wanted me to perform. I was dumbfounded but played along. That’s when I met Prem Gadhvi. I started working for a lead role in a play called ‘Mahatma Bomb’ written by Saumya Joshi. They gave me the lead role not because I was the best because they didn’t have any other option. Over the years, they came to know me as an actor among the professors, peons and other people in the college. Thankfully, it solved my attendance problem too. So this answers your question of how by chance I got into theatre, and with time I started loving it.
I was also doing CA then. I remember having some elaborate dreams of finishing CA (which my dad wanted) and then focus on acting, moving to Mumbai and becoming the next SRK! But then with these experiences, I realized it’s not SRK that I dream to be. I want to be Vishal Shah.
Well, all the best for that dream! You were pursuing Chartered Accountancy before this. What happened to that?
I was more of a sheep in school and college and followed my friends all the way. That’s how I joined CA coaching and went along without even knowing what a Chartered Accountant does or what are the career options for chartered accountants until I cleared the first level. In fact, I didn’t know about the rat race either. Once I started knowing myself in a better way through theatre in college I realized my liking is towards theatre and acting, I also realized my aversion to monotony- a 9 to 5 job!
How did you decide on quitting CA? How did you convince your parents?
I have a very small family: it’s just my Dad and me. Being a Baniya by caste and belonging to a family which deals in the stock market since ages, my dad obvious had a different set of dreams for me. He wanted me to be a Chartered Accountant. Plus, in the past 3-4 generations, no one had ever taken up Arts. I was doing part-time Theatre and CA along with it.
One day, he asked me to finish CA first. I remember he used to come to watch each of my plays and he used to see tears in his eyes after every performance I did in college days. I used to notice his shoulders rise up after my every stage performance. But the next day he would ask me to focus back on CA. What I realized then was he is just concerned about my future which any parent will be. I tried but I failed twice in the CA exams, even after giving my 100 %. It was very frustrating and I thought if I am doing this for the sake of doing it, why do it anyway?
Did you have a fear of not having a secure career? How can one convince their parents?
My dad wanted security for me. I told him that if it ever strikes me that acting is not enough, I will do other things, but in the same field. I don’t mind being an assistant director or sound operator for money at times to survive through it. I also grew with time.
If you are even a little confused about how will you do it or what will you do, your parents will never agree. So it’s easy to walk up to your parents and say, dad, I want to become a star and I want to do acting or theatre and I want to go to Mumbai.
To convince your parents, one thing is for sure. You have got to do your homework and make sure that you know each and every detail about the matter. Your conviction matters the most.
What happened once you joined Theatre Full-Time?
Things got very tricky and confusing with time. The theatre industry in Ahmedabad is very messed up. I took up Socrates with Rajoo Barot with no money commitment. In a month’s time, I got into a commercial play which is still running successfully and I am still doing it. They were offering 800 rupees for a show while targeting a total of 500 shows. I thought it’s a lot of money. I never asked about the time period for doing 500 shows. It’s been 2.5 years now and we have done 50 shows.
There was a point where I had questions of long-term survival if I do only theatre in Ahmedabad. I realized that an artist or an industrialist none can deliver quality with an empty stomach. After a few months of experience in Commercial Theatre, Experimental Theatre, and Freelance Acting, I could clearly see that the opportunities here are too little or too scattered. There is a need of a wholesome and quality theatre industry here and not bits and parts. Hence, I decided that it’s time to create new opportunities and focus on other areas than just acting.
How did you create new opportunities?
I am blessed till date to be surrounded by really amazing humans and mentors. Kabir sir (Kabir Thakore) was then starting to conduct workshops for an institute in Gandhinagar and I got to assist him. We used to travel weekly to Gandhinagar and I use to observe him and bombard him with my infinite naive questions. In this process, I gained some understanding about teaching, keeping the students glued and communicating things. The pay was much better than 800 for a show, and no uncertainty either. Slowly, I took up workshops for other institutes as well. Teaching helped me grow as an actor and solved my question of survival.
The best experience was when The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) approached me for their national convention. The same CA institute where I was struggling to death for 4-5 years, I got to conduct a workshop, and direct a play all on my own. That was my first individual experience which acted as a good boost.
Does it require a formal training? Can you be good enough, even without going to National School of Drama (NSD) which is one of the best acting schools in India?
I have not had any formal training from any institutes, am I good enough? No, but that is not because I have not had any formal training. I had my share of training in college days and later with a lot of other projects and plays I did. So then how have I grown a little above the amateurs, how do I find work though I am not good enough? The more you do it the more you learn. Nevertheless, formal training from the Best Acting Schools in India can definitely expedite your learning and your contacts.
Disclaimer: If you think that getting into NSD will get you a certificate that will guarantee Anurag Kashyap casting you in his film, please get a reality check ASAP.
What is happening in your work life presently?
After a lot of diverse experiences in the 2 years like Working for a Theatre Company, acting in commercial plays in Ahmedabad, moving back to CA, working on the share broking business with dad, and then moving out of CA; I made a choice. I decided to stick here in Ahmedabad until I am done with my part of theatre exploration and juice out all sorts of opportunities that the place has to offer. I can’t wait for that one film, play or character that will make me reach the masses as an actor. But I am not someone who believes to struggle, sit back and wait for the right opportunity. Hence “INDIE PRODUCTIONS”.
Indie Productions is an improvised kind of format of a company for the theatre. Unlike the other theatre companies which appoint actors and works on the production, we focus on three areas- Theatre Workshops, Events, and Productions. When I say workshops, we do it for Individuals for all age groups like RANGAYAN and for educational institutions like IIM A, Symbiosis Pune, ICAI, DPS School, IITE, and CEPT. We are building the corporate side of deliverables as well.
We are in phase 1 currently where we have tried all 3 of them. We are focusing more on workshops right now to expand ourselves horizontally. We are coming up with a swanky little theatre studio called Prayogshala, where we can have our own Productions like an acting school in Ahmedabad, inviting the best talent from all around the country and present plays to the Ahmedabad audience at low cost.
Who were your Gurus? People who motivated you on the way.
I have come across a lot of mentors and gurus till date and each and every one of them have made a great impact. I cannot say that any of them were not important. Each one of them gave me a new layer of understanding and the journey is still on. But from all of them, I’d say Kabir Thakore is the one who would have made the greatest impact.
Two things about him which I have appreciated and adopted all through the way is that he never treats you like a student, you are more of a friend to him and that’s how he also expects you to treat him. This gives you a comfort level, where you can share everything, ask everything and learn everything. Second thing is that though he has so much knowledge he never stops learning that keeps you too updated if you are following him. He is like the magical river full of water that never ends. Also, I would mention the never ending support and guidance in everything from my father – Pragnesh Shah.
What is a typical workday like? In the life of a Theatre actor?
To be very frank you cannot describe a typical work day in this case because it’s never the same. In fact, that is one of the reasons that I am in this field.
One day you are so occupied that you don’t have time to take a shower while the next you can stay in your bed all day long and there is nothing to do.
At times I multi-task a lot! In the morning I rehearse for a play and by the afternoon I am conducting a workshop. By the evening I may be packing my bags to perform somewhere in Gujarat. Also, I would add that normally for a theatre actor in Ahmedabad, shows begin at 9 PM. So one has to report by 7PM, and almost every time you will have to perform on some light snack and tea in your stomach. You mostly get free by midnight. Hence It’s almost impossible to make a routine and stick to it.
One merit or demerit that depends upon your own interpretation is that you cannot get totally disconnected from the society. It’s a field where you will have to be continuously updated and connected.
Vishal imbibes the classic lesson of Do what you love and love what you do! If you aspire to become a Theatre actor and wish to know more, comment on the article. If you want to speak to Vishal Shah, or if you have a similar query, you can send in your request by filling this FORM. Find Film Making & Acting Schools in Delhi | Film Making & Acting Schools in Mumbai | Best Acting Schools in India on CollegeBol.com.