Mumbai-born Rupesh Tillu, who has acted in the ‘Ship of Theseus’, has been a Stockholm-based artist for several years
By Shevlin Sebastian
Rupesh Tillu, who plays the character Ajay, in the ‘Ship Of Theseus’, is driving a car in Stockholm. In front of him, in another car, kneeling in the open luggage boot is the Director of Photography Pankaj Kumar carrying the camera, with his gaffer Nuthan holding his waist.
“The traffic rules are strict in Sweden,” says Rupesh, an Indian artist based in the Swedish capital. “What Pankaj is doing would never be allowed.” Not surprisingly, a police car soon arrives. Rupesh calls his friend, Deepal Doshi, who is driving the first car, and says, “We are screwed. We should not tried to do things Mumbai-style. I am sure they will give us a fine of 5000 krona [Rs 48,000].” But Rupesh gets a shock. The cops observe that it is a shooting sequence and go away quietly. “That was a most amazing moment,” he says.
Rupesh’s role in ‘Ship of Theseus’ happened because the director Anand Gandhi and he had been friends in college. “So, in the script, the buyer of a kidney had to be from Europe,” says Rupesh. “But since Anand knew I was in Sweden and had the resources, he decided to set the foreign scenes there and gave me a role.”
But it is not films, but theatre which is Rupesh’s first love. Right from his days at KG Somaiyya College of Arts and Commerce at Mumbai, he has acted in plays. During his last year in college, he joined the Avikal Theatre Company. His turning point came when he saw a performance by the Swedish theatre company, Theatre Slava, at Mumbai. “It was physical theatre,” says Rupesh. “There was singing and dancing. I realised that this is something I want to do.”
Through the help of one of the Slava actors, Kefas Berlin, he got admission into an acting school called Vårdinge By Folkhögskola, which is 60 kms from Stockholm. In September, 2005, Rupesh left for Sweden. He studied there for a year. Thereafter, he got a chance to work with one of Slava's old directors Erik Norlin, who hired Rupesh as a member of his international drama troupe, called the Urban Company. Soon Rupesh was traveling all over Europe performing in plays.
In 2007, Rupesh came to Kerala to make a film, called ‘The Living Gods’, on Theyyam, one of Kerala’s traditional ritual forms of worship. “It will be aired soon on Swedish TV,” says Rupesh, who took five years to make the film. In between, in 2009, he did a two-year master's programme in physical comedy at the National School of Dramatic Arts in Stockholm. He has also performed with ‘Clowns without Borders’ in Moldova, Palestine, Israel, India, Jordan and Egypt.
There was more drama in Rupesh’s life. He fell in love with a Swedish classical pianist, Emma Gill Jam Tillu and got married to her on March 24, 2012. With Emma’s help, he started his own theatre company called Theatreact. And they tasted success soon. Rupesh’s 60-minute play, ‘Ragulabuggla’, about climate change, won the outstanding artist award in the Stockholm fringe festival in 2012.
“It was a thrilling moment,” he says. “There were 400 artistes participating from all over the world.” Thereafter, because of their win, they were selected to perform at the Prague fringe festival in May, this year, where they won the Special Jury award. And they have just finished performing in the Amsterdam fringe festival.
Now, Rupesh is on a national tour with his latest production, ‘Drömeställe’.
Asked the difference between art in Europe and India, Rupesh says, “In Europe, it is not about pleasing people, but about raising questions in your audience. That perspective has been missing in the art scene in India. But things are changing. The best example is ‘Ship of Theseus’ which asks a lot of questions.”
He is passionate about the artist’s role. “It is our responsibility towards society that we train people to look for certain kinds of cinema and theatre. We underestimate our audiences and give them things that have worked in the past. It is the artist's function to make that change happen. If you give [Salman Khan’s] 'Dabaang', they don't have options. But when you give them options, you can see what has happened with ‘Ship of Thesus’.”
An excited Rupesh is moving back to Mumbai in December with his family. “I have been fortunate to get all this education and experience,” he says. “Now, I want to contribute to the art scene in India.”
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)