Piyush Mishra and exorcising Hamlet’s ghost

For decades, his portrayal of Hamlet's ghost never left Piyush Mishra - entering his personal space and clawing up to his very being.

He may have stunned the entire theatre fraternity with the portrayal of Hamlet in the Shakespearean tragedy as a student at the National School of Drama (NSD) and later with his solo performances ‘An Evening with Piyush Mishra’. But for decades, the character’s ghost never left the actor – entering his personal space and clawing up to his very being.

“You cannot imagine the adulteration. A certain arrogance, complete self-indulgence, alcoholism… in my mind, I was the solo actor on life’s stage and everybody else was not supposed to take their eyes off my brilliance. Yes, I committed many mistakes. Confessing them was traumatic, but also cathartic,” he says with just the right dramatic pauses.

Mishra, the superstar of Delhi stage with a cult following during his time where he worked with theatre directors like N K Shar and Arvind Gaur, and also wrote the play ‘Hamlet Bombay Nahin Jayega’, besides ‘Gagan Damama Bajyo’ , shifted to Mumbai to start life again after the age of 40, and his recently released book ‘Tumhari Aukat Kya Hai’, published by Rajkamal Prakashan Samuh traces not just his artistic journey but also reinvention.

“The first experience in Mumbai had been traumatic. It left me broken on many levels, but by the second one, I had emerged from the image I had created in my own eyes. This Piyush was now a more open person, a hint of spirituality had entered his life, and he did not dismiss new experiences. He had left the artistic arrogance in the green room and realised he was not the only one on stage now,” Mishra says.

He adds that writing the book as an autobiography was utterly boring. Thus, he decided to work on it as a novel and changed names. “Ninty per cent of what you will read is factual. Of course, anyone familiar with theatre and cinema circles will know who I am talking about even though names have been changed.”

Talking about his meeting with filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, who used to watch him rehearse and perform as a student in Delhi, Mishra recalls calling him after watching ‘Shool’ (1999) to praise the film’s script. “He was tongue-tied. He used to admire my work back in Delhi. Kashyap invited me to his office where a few music directors were sitting – trying to sell their songs for ‘Gulaal’ (2009). I just could not listen to the horrible numbers they were pitching, snatched the harmonium, and started singing the ones I had composed during my theatre days. Anurag’s smile said it all,” he recalls.

In many ways, the film ‘Gulaal’ ‘belonged’ to Piyush Mishra, further cementing his fan base, not just among those who had seen him on stage, but also the younger generation.

While the book narrates his life experiences, his internal journey, and how he reinvented himself – a very important and ‘quiet’ character is his wife Priya. The School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) pass-out who fell in love with his poetry, saw the star rising, falling, and rising again. “She is the one who held everything together. During my Delhi days, I would leave home for rehearsals at 6 am and come back at 11 pm – and often drunk. The woman deserves a prize for putting up with someone like me.”

An actor, writer, lyricist, and singer, who can casually say – “I am gifted, not talented”, and get away with it makes it clear that he does cinema only to make money. “It is a profession, and it ends there. I realized long back that just following passion madly does not make anyone otherworldly, just leaves him broken – on every front. I still do theatre and have my music band – they keep life interesting.”

Mishra is quite happy with the reception his band ‘Ballimaaran’ has been receiving across the country. “We have been able to tap into the energies of the young – they are open to new music and experiments. I am thoroughly enjoying myself.”

Stressing there is no killer ambition anymore, he adds, “I have worked in some good movies, written songs, done excellent theatre and now travelling with my band. Yes, I would like to direct a film one day if I get a good script. Rest… life is alright, I can sleep well.”

As the conversation veers towards extreme trolling and calls for banning some films by a section of the right wing, Mishra says it is best to ignore to them. “Frankly, I do not think they should even be acknowledged. Of course, this does not mean that one is apolitical. We all have to choose a side ultimately.”

–By Sukant Deepak

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