When Chittaranjan Tripathy graduated from the National School of Drama (NSD) in Delhi in 1996, he had Rs 70 in his pocket and knew that he could not get money from his father because of their modest financial condition. But, NSD had made him brave. “When you go through so much reading, see so many protagonists take shape over three years as a student and spend all your time with artistes who are sensitive, you learn a lot about life,” he says. On October 6, Tripathy was appointed as the director of NSD, one of the most difficult jobs in Indian theatre at present.
The school, a dream destination for young theatre artistes from across India who want to follow in the footsteps of Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Pankaj Tripathi and Raghubir Yadav, among others, has lost its sheen in recent years. The director’s post itself was vacant for half a decade, during which there were multiple candidates, selection processes and a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court. Tripathy comes with a body of work that spans theatre, television, cinema and OTT. “NSD has a great legacy. We have to take it to a different level,” he says.
Theatre veteran and Tripathy’s teacher Ram Gopal Bajaj calls him an all-rounder who has worked with diverse directors, actors and mediums. “He also has an unusual combination of traits — he is very firm, yet polite and humble; he is a modern man and yet a bhakta (devotee). I am hopeful about his tenure as director,” says Bajaj.
Tripathy was born in Chandbali, a small historic city in Odisha. His mother passed away when he was two years old and, being the youngest, he would always be with his father, Vishwanath Tripathy. A folk singer or pala gayak, Vishwanath would take him to the cinema and other forms of performing arts, like jatras. Tripathy’s ideas of becoming an actor were born during these performances.
“My father says that when I was around three, I used to pick up songs from the radio and sing along,” he says. His father began to train him in music, before enrolling him with a guru, the late Bhaskar Chandra Das. Today, Tripathy is also a Sangeet Visharad in Odisi vocal from Pracheen Kala Kendra, Chandigarh.
When he was five years old, however, Tripathy was getting into trouble for mimicking people. “Once, I imitated a policeman and he got very angry. He came to my father, who gave me a few slaps and apologised to him,” he says.
The family had a humble background. There was limited money and it was a big struggle on Vishwanath’s part to bring up two sons and a daughter after the death of his wife. “Because of hardships, my father chose to be aligned with humour. Every day, he would make us laugh many times. He must have been a sad man inside because he had lost his wife but he faced the situation bravely. My sense of humour comes from him,” says Tripathy.
He studied Political Science at Ravenshaw College in Cuttack, where he was elected as a dramatics secretary and won several awards for singing and acting. At the University of Hyderabad, where he completed his post-graduation in Sociology, Tripathy was elected as the cultural secretary. “I started writing my own plays in Odia and would stage these with my Odia friends,” he says. The recurrent theme of his writing was poverty, especially the social humiliation faced by impoverished characters. After completing his masters, Tripathy thought that he would join the drama department of the university. “I met Prof Bhaskar Sewalkar, who specialises in Theatre Education and Creative Drama, about this and he suggested that I apply to NSD instead. I had heard that NSD was very tough but, surprisingly, I got accepted,” he says.
Tripathy’s class included Jhilmil Hazarika, Swanand Kirkire, Geetanjali Kulkarni and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Kirti Jain was the director at NSD (1988-95) when Tripathy joined, followed by Ram Gopal Bajaj in Tripathy’s third year. The first play Tripathy directed was Holi, a political work on Marathi playwright Mahesh Elkunchwar about a group of students in conflict with the administration. He was working as an actor at the NSD Repertory at this time.
Qatar hands death penalty to 8 former Indian Navy men, Govt explores legal options
Leo box office collection Day 8: Vijay-starrer aims to beat Jailer’s Rs 600 crore record, still has a long road ahead
Another play, which he wrote and directed, was Gunno Bai, about a failed IAS aspirant from an impoverished family who creates a radical new identity for himself. When Bajaj saw the plays, he offered Tripathy a chance to direct for the NSD Repertory. The latter took up Taj Mahal Ka Tender, a satire on red-tape and corruption, which has been running full house for the past 25 years.
Taj Mahal Ka Tender also sealed Tripathy’s reputation for handling humour. “Nowadays, humour can become a problem. A lot of people do not take a joke in a very positive manner. We are all sailing through life and, if you have humour in your DNA, you will find it easier to bear the troubles,” he says.
Tripathy has announced that his tenure at NSD will be dedicated to preparing theatre for a future, where technology, especially AI, is determining entertainment. “In cinema, everybody is worried about AI. Theatre is a live medium. We can move ahead with new technology to attract a new audience,” he says. Other areas of focus will be to explore the gamut of Indian literature and make NSD a centre of musical theatre. “Musicals are a big industry worldwide, but, in India, we do not have a discipline of musical theatre. I think NSD can work on this because India has a rich musical tradition. This is a golden time for NSD and for live art. There is a lot of potential,” says Tripathy.