The first time I met Varoon, he made me laugh in his very first sentence, he made me sad and he made me think. His ability to have an audience in splits of laughter along with his suicidal tendencies that still come up every now and then was intriguing and endearing. We began talking about his theatre performances, his love for cinema, the life he has lived in umpteen cities and his improv acts. To give a different twist to the article form I thought why not innovate with an improv exercise where I will throw words at Varoon and he will elaborate, or not…So here goes:
Varoon P. Anand
I am Varoon P. Anand. I am the creative director of Kaivalya Plays, a theatre company where we make short films. Basically it’s anything related to community organization as it’s connected to an NGO. It’s all about experimentation. It’s about exploring and finding out as you go along. I also founded Cueless Improv, Delhi’s most experienced improv team. I have been in Delhi for about seven years now before that I lived and I am listing them out in chronological order New Delhi, Bucharest, Madrid, Riyadh, Islamabad, Panama, Illinois, Florida, Armenia, Panama, New Zealand, Panama and now New Delhi. Along with exploring theatre, I also work with the Spanish Cultural Institute called Instituto Cervantes.
Childhood to me is completely about transition and transience because for me my entire childhood was spent moving from country to country. I was moving every three years. So at many levels, I had a lovely childhood as I saw so much but it was also so traumatic because every three years you moved to a completely new culture, new language. Having said that I had access to great education because I was the son of two diplomats. I was exposed to great literature and music and so on. For example, the first time I went for a music performance was that of classical music. As a child I was very interested in films as well, and I think I knew from then on that I would like to do something related to film and the arts. The first films I saw were Star Wars, Ben Hur and My Fair Lady to name a few.
I think I have always reacted better to comedy and I love what it makes you feel. I love the fact that it has an immediate reaction. Humour has always been a constant and because as a child I was bullied, I always used humour as a self-defence mechanism. Before I could be made fun of, I made fun of myself so after that, where could they take the bullying? I always made fun of myself and not others and I think that’s where the Chaplin influence comes in as he did the same.
My father had these amazing books of great movies that really got me interested in film, but I really never said anything as my parents thought being an artist was a struggling job and so I kept quiet. I wanted to make films and I thought I could never cut it as an actor because I thought you needed to be good-looking to be an actor. So I wrote a short film and worked with two of my friends, one of whose father gave us the budget for the short. At the time I was really full of myself, I thought I was on my path and the minute the short releases it will be triumphant, we will send it to Cannes, we will win there and that’s how we’ll roll—it was that simple in my head. So I wrote, directed and acted in the film and of course it was an absolute disaster for multiple reasons. My friends very honestly told me that I nailed the writing, I can learn directing but I should never act. And that got me very angry and that’s when I realised anger is a great emotion to get things done. Because I was so angry, I got motivated. And then I directed a music video, which I was very satisfied with, and suddenly I found myself feeling quite good about myself and tried different things and tried acting again.
Stories of people inspire me.
I get very emotional when I talk about theatre. It’s something I have been doing actively for 10 years. But I think film triggered the theatre interest in me. Our move to Pakistan was amazing, as in Islamabad where we lived, my school offered a lot of extra co-curricular activities—we were encouraged to pursue other activities and it was there that I was introduced to a Drama club. Drama gave me some kind of freedom and I really enjoyed doing it. I was very free and not self-conscious like everyone else, and that got everyone around me to ease out and they began finally getting me. So a lot of confidence came with doing Drama; the teachers were very supportive and they did say that I had something in me. However my first professional encounter with theatre was walking on stage kissing a woman, which was by far the most uncomfortable first act. I was living in Panama then and it all began from there. We did a couple of plays and eventually I established myself as a performance artist.
Death is a relief —there is no fear of death. Depression is very seductive. I feel suicidal sometimes. Love for me is the most important human emotion. Anger is a great motivator.
The hardest performance I did was in Panama and once I came out of it, I found myself a bit lost. The play was Woody Allen’s Riverside Drive, a comedy where I played a psychopathic, schizophrenic, homeless person who ends up being a murderer. It was the heaviest drama that I ever did but the lightness that I brought to it with comedy was appreciated. So when I was offered the character, I decided to adopt method acting without knowing what method was. I turned off the electricity in my apartment, I put all my money in a savings account for three months, I used to have one meal a day, and I quit my job. In the evening when I came home I wore this headband that had a little light on it. I ate one hotdog every day, I would go to rehearsal and I did not shave, I bathed yes but I did not wash my towel for a whole month. So the play was a part of a larger production. There were plays staged after ours, there was a jazz choir and number of things happening, but when the reviews were written my performance was highly applauded and I was very much singled out and that gave me a lot of encouragement to continue
to do something different and challenging.
As an audience what I really want to see is guys in the moment, exploring that character, as that’s when you are really transported.
The hunger to experiment and explore introduced me to improv. While working on one of my jobs, my boss’s wife had a theatre company and she asked me to do something in it. She wanted to either do a cabaret or something called spontaneous improvisation. And that worked really well for me, as I too wanted to experiment with something new. And it was great as we played a bunch of games and had lots of fun with it and very quickly it clicked. No one told us to be funny but we were in a room cracking up.
Rules for Improv
The first school of improv is always saying yes. So if a suggestion comes, you have to accept it. In an improv scene you need to establish a character, a relationship between two people, and the objective, what you are doing in a scene and where are you—as in location. So if I say you are my mother then you are my mother. The “Yes” makes you move forward. Second thing is, suggesting something as in pushing the story forward and that’s calling endowing.
In the future I want to do one solid thing that I am really proud of. So if it’s a play I want to keep doing it. The same way Atul Kumar does Piya Bherupiya. But I want to write for film and television as well.
If my ability to communicate a message goes away, that is the most terrifying thing for me.
Text Shruti Kapur Malhotra