Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Passing on Pearls of Wisdom

Master acting coach, the Perth-based Dalip Sondhi, is excited by the acting talent in Bollywood, following his workshop in Mumbai

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: Dalip Sondhi; actress Ridhi Dogra; at the Mumbai workshop

At his acting workshop in Mumbai, acting coach Dalip Sondhi gets very excited. The actress Ridhi Dogra is playing the role of the ingĂ©nue Nina in Anton Chekhov’s play, ‘Seagull'.

Ridhi is able to understand the character so well,” says Dalip. “She is a student who can stand up to the best in the world.”

After more than two decades of teaching, Dalip can easily spot those who have remarkable talent. “In a class of 15 people, you will always be able to identify one or two who will make a mark,” says Dalip.

But talent is not enough. “You need an openness, a desire to work well with others, a zest for life and to care about what is happening in the world,” says Dalip. “You also need to have an absolute passion for theatre and film.”

Unfortunately, many fall by the wayside. One reason is because their expectations are too high. They cannot deal with criticism of their work or the lack of money. Many take the rejection for roles personally. “So, they give up,” says Dalip. “It is just too hard for them.”

On the other hand, Dalip has been resilient. Of Indian origin, he grew up in London, and became a police officer, at age 18. And he saw a lot of action in London during the Broadwater Farm race riots of 1985. “It was one of the worst riots,” says Dalip. “We used only shields and sticks against an armed bunch of rioters.”

As time went on, Dalip realised that, as a policeman, he had become narrow-minded. “Everything was either black or white,” he says. His friend, Martin Langshaw, a musician told him he should go to university. But Dalip did not know what course to do. And it was Martin who suggested acting.”

So, Dalip did a three-year degree in the performing arts from Middlesex University followed by a Masters from the Central School of Speech and Drama. Then he tried his luck as an actor.

The Indian parts I got were stereotypical,” says Dalip. “Directors realised that I was not Indian enough. And, in a paradox, I was also not British enough, because of my Indian aesthetic.”

So he shifted to teaching. He worked at Central School, Hertfordshire University, and London's elite drama school, the Rose Bruford College. Thereafter, in 2002, he joined The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts at Perth as a Programme Director for Theatre Arts. In 2013, Dalip left and formed the SDDS International Institute for Dramatic Art, because he wanted to do something for Indian actors.

Meanwhile, his colleague Dr Abhijit Das has been conducting acting workshops in Mumbai for the past six years. So, he invited Dalip to teach there in July.

But Dalip is frank enough to admit that it will not be easy for Indians to break into Hollywood. “In Bollywood you need emotionally-charged acting, while in Hollywood, they prefer restraint and control,” says Dalip. “So Indians will find it difficult to do well. But by coming to our workshops, they can learn to act in both styles.”

In September, Dalip is planning to set up longer acting programmes in Mumbai. He is also working with actor Nandita Das to produce an upcoming film. “Life is good,” says Dalip, whose family runs the Jalandhar-based FC Sondhi and Company, India's leading cricket equipment-manufacturing company. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

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