From stage to screen, Barry John ready for the switch

May 18th, 2010 - 9:46 am ICT by IANS  

Shah Rukh Khan By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, May 18 (IANS) The man who pioneered the English theatre movement in the Indian capital says “movies are a more powerful medium”. British-born director and instructor Barry John is ready to move to movies after 40 years in theatre to expand his creative repertoire.

John, who has been using theatre as a social intervention, communication and motivational tool and gave to showbiz Shah Rukh Khan and Manoj Bajpai, is ready to chart a “new course in professional life” even as he explores innovative ways to groom aspiring actors in Mumbai and in New Delhi.

Responding to a query on his “switch from theatre to movies late in life “, John told IANS that “he had reached a plateau in theatre after practising it for 40 years”.

“Movies are a more powerful medium. The process of making a movie is different. Cinema is a lot more technical but theatre needs several props like stage, a group of actors and director, to be staged. A movie eventually is a director’s medium while theatre is an actor’s medium,” he said.

“I will switch to movie-making to expand my creative repertoire after years of grooming actors and performing on stage,” the theatre veteran added.

The 64-year-old has set up a film production company, Barry John Films, that will start work on a series of short films after the monsoon season.

“I want to make a few short films before making full-length meaningful feature films.”

John, who set up the Barry John Acting Studio in Mumbai, has returned to the capital for the first time since relocating three years ago to moderate a summer theatre workshop for children under the banner of his Imago Theatre Group.

And he says he is “still acclimatising to Mumbai after three years”.

The course, which the high priest of screen and stage training likes to describe as “contact between actors”, teaches nuances like looking, listening and how to be transparent without faking emotions.

John’s legacy to the stage is the “TIE (Theatre In Education) movement that seeks to include theatre as a component of legitimate study module in schools and colleges”.

“Drama”, he felt, “was a great facilitator between the parent, teacher and the child as an interactive exercise to behavioural problems.”

“The movement has been a struggle in India. In the west, drama and theatre studies have stablised themselves as respectable subjects in academic institutions. But theatre generally has not developed as a subject in Indian schools and colleges. The institutions lack awareness on how important these subjects can be for children,” he said.

John debuted on Indian stage in 1968 - the year he moved to India from Britain. In 1973-74, he set up the Theatre Action Group (TAG), one of the early theatre groups in Delhi. In 1997, he launched the Imago Media Company that managed the Imago Acting School in the capital. In 2007, Imago relocated to Mumbai and was rechristened the Barry John Acting Studio.

The scope of theatre has expanded over the years to fulfil new responsibilities. “It is now used as a tool for personality development, mode of communication and to enhance artistic intuitiveness,” he said.

Summing up the differences between theatre and cinema, John said, “In theatre you act, but in films acting is about being - not acting. The camera comes right there up close to the role and takes care of everything. But as an actor on stage , one has to project larger and louder than life.”

He regretted that “Indian theatre was facing a dearth of quality scripts and theatre was not reinventing itself.”

“Movies, on their part, have to quicken their organic growth out of the theatrical roots to become independent serious cinema. The expectations of the audience have changed. People are now more aware and demanding,” he said, when queried about his wish-list.

“I think there is place for all kinds of cinema. The extra-theatrical paradigm has ruled the roost too long in Bollywood,” John said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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