BWW Interviews: Shunya Series - Cast Talks JUNGLE BOOK
BWW: Why should Houston audiences see the production?
Inder Sandhu: It's a good story. Not just for the kids but for the entire family. You can see yourself in almost every character.
Tejal Master: There's something for every age group. A child can come see this. My kids are going to come see this. I think they're gonna love it visually. And they're going to love the story.
Inder Sandhu: There's at least a couple of places in the play where we actually involve the audience. That to me is beautiful. The call sequence and the song. So, the audience feels kind of a part of the show.
BWW: Do you think the movement and the music will make it fun for the children?
Nishant Kelkar: There's one part that always gets me - the monkey song. The monkeys are super colorful. They're playing around. I think kids will really like that part. The entire show will be loved by children.
BWW: Tell me a bit about your roles and how you all prepared for them?
Nishant Kelkar: I play the role of Mowgli. Mowgli has this aching question: "Am I a wolf?" "Am I a man?" "Who am I?" He's a human. But he's brought up by the wolf pack ever since he was a little baby.
What I really, really love about this role is that there's so many transitions throughout the play. Like in the beginning, Mowgli is fun-loving then he slowly starts to understand the jungle law and what he's supposed to do. Why he's supposed to do it. I don't want to give any spoilers away but his transformation is what really shocked me about the role. When seeing the Disney JUNGLE BOOK, Mowgli's just a little kid. He's just having fun throughout the entire thing almost. Once I read this play, I was like, whoa! He's actually becoming a man throughout the story. That was really fascinating to me.
As far as preparing the role, we learned the smallest things which make the biggest difference in rehearsals. What I read, when I read the script, is completely different when I'm acting it out on stage, which is really cool because I feel whoa, I never thought of it that way! That makes so much more sense. Onstage anything can happen. It's just really fun for me to experiment with all that.
Anthony Hunter: I play Shere Khan, The Tiger. In terms of getting prepared for the role, the most interesting thing for me, as I was reading through the script initially, trying to get inside the head of Shere Khan so to speak, in this version of the script, Shere Khan is the embodiment of Mowgli's fear. He is the thing that Mowgli, whether he realizes it or not, constantly has on his mind. The opposite is also true. Shere Khan's single focus throughout the play is how this man cub was stolen from him and how this attack to his pride has become his entire reason for existing. I think it's really interesting. As we've been going through it in rehearsals, and finding all these great moments, where Shere Khan has these sinister, sinister lines. These things that when you read them at first, you think, okay that's not that scary, that's not that big of a deal, but when you actually deliver it, it's bone chilling.
With this character, I had to really think about the physicality, how he stands, how he moves and the things that define him from the rest of the characters. Shere Khan is very grounded. He's very upright. He's very sturdy. He's a towering presence over the rest of the characters. And that contrast of physicality. Of him being this very sturdy character versus all these other characters having much more movement centered roles really sets him apart. Every time he walks onto stage you know something is about to happen of consequence. I think that's really cool.
Jeff Dorman: I play Tabaqui, The Jackal. I actually never read the The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. I might have seen the Disney movie when I was five. So, I was essentially starting from scratch when I read the script. To prepare for the role, I actually studied wolves. A jackal is not a wolf, I know, but I found that wolves, when you watch them, there's this ferociousness mingled with this desperation about them. At the same time, they're so fierce.
Psychologically, I tried to make Tabaqui the epitome of everything evil and bad. I tried to channel that into a single character, which sounds impossible. But, attempting the impossible, I think, can help you achieve huge things.
Inder Sandhu: I'm playing Bagheera, the Panther. I read the Disney version and Bagheera's a lot more playful but Sara [Kumar, co-director] told me he's a badass. Ever since then, I've been trying to tap into my badass side. I'm still trying to get there. It's funny that you ask what did I do to prepare. Not much. I did watch some videos my way back on a flight. And there was an attractive girl on the other side of the aisle. And I was practicing my extended yawn, with the shake in the head and all this, and I turn around and she's staring directly at me giving me the worst look in the world [Everyone Laughs]. Needless to say, nothing happened there. But, it's been fun. To me, It's been a lot of fun.
Tejal Master: I'm playing Raksha, The Mother Wolf. I'm the one who steals him away. What really appeals to me about Raksha is she's just this fierce mother. She is representative of all mothers. She's there to protect her cubs. She's there to protect her family. She's going to do whatever it takes to make sure Shere Khan doesn't get to them.
In terms of preparing for the role, this is all new to me. I've been trying to get pointers from the more seasoned actors here. And really what I think has helped me the most is trying to create a backstory for Raksha. Trying to understand why she is the way she is. Why she does the things that she does.
BWW: My final question. A softball. Do you have any advice for aspiring performers?
Nishant Kelkar: I would say if you have the slightest inclination then do it. And don't be fearful at all. At first, I was a bit shy. And, I was like aww man, how do I actually do this? When I let go of all inhibitions, it felt so much easier. So, for those who are wanting to do it, who have had the inclination to do it for a very long time, I would say let go of everything that's holding you back. Because fear, like in this play Shere Khan represents fear, it really pulls you back. And it makes you feel as if you're not good enough. I would just say let go of all inhibitions. Just go for it.
Anthony Hunter: This is coming from the perspective of somebody who's a little older. I've been doing this for a while. I did it in college. I did it in high school. And I did it when I was a kid too. Acting is something I really love. What you learn in life is to make time to do the things that you really want to do. I think many of us in this play are people who have other big obligations in their lives. Whether that's a career or whether that's a family. Many of us do this because it's our passion. And it's something that makes us feel fulfilled not only as artists but as people. To anybody that finds themselves in a position in their life where they're feeling bogged down by the other choices they've made: Oh, I'm in this career, I don't have time. Oh, I'm taking care of my family, I don't have any time. I think if it's something you truly want to do and something you are truly passionate about, you'll find the time. And more importantly, you'll find the people who have the same drive to do that as you. And that's when you get groups like Shunya theatre who come together and are able to say, OK, I know we don't all have a hundred hours every week to work on this but we do have ten. We do have fifteen. So, let's do it. Let's get together. Let's make it happen.
Jeff Dorman: I would tell them to never give up. To have the strength and the perseverance and the drive to not let anything stop them.
To read part one of the Shunya Theatre interview series with Directors Sara Kumar and Sunny Sinha, click here.
Shunya Theatre's production of THE JUNGLE BOOK will run from August 8th to August 17th (Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM) at The Barn, 2201 Preston Street, Houston, TX 77003. For more info about tickets, pricing and Shunya Theatre, visit www.shunyatheatre.org. For more information about The Barn visit dancesourcehouston.org.