Drama Kings: Neil Bhoopalam
The critically commended artiste turned heads earlier this year following the release of his Bollywood film NH10, but it’s safe to say that Neil Bhoopalam’s roots are still firmly planted on stage. It’s been more than a decade since he made his theatre debut — one which set him on a course of noteworthy performances and rewarding opportunities. As a 19-year-old in Mumbai, he was navigating his way through the realm of radio jockeying when he heard that Atul Kumar was rehearsing for The Blue Mug at National College where he was a student. The aspiring actor auditioned for the new play that Kumar was directing and swiftly bagged the role. The production — called Voices — was his introduction to what he calls “the beautiful world of performances, theatre, art and life”.
Bhoopalam quickly made a name for himself with plays like Noises Off, Shiv Subramanium’s Clogged Arteries, The Merchant of Venice and Rajat Kapoor’s Hamlet the Clown Prince, even while testing new waters with a role in Britz — a BAFTA award-winning television series. The small screen turned out to be another gratifying domain for the actor, who was catapulted to household-name status with his portrayal of Aditya Singhania, a conscientious young politician, on the Indian television drama, 24. Still, he didn’t stop there. The extrovert has essayed complex characters on the silver screen too, in films like Shaitan, No One Killed Jessica, Bombay Talkies, Ungli and, earlier this year, NH10 alongside Anushka Sharma.
At present, he is happy not having to choose between stage and screen, though he will admit that the best thing about performing on stage is the phenomenal energy of a live audience. He explains, “You can sense exactly how the show is going, through the responses of the audience — be they good or bad — which give you the ability to then tweak your performance to keep their attention.” And, theatre gives him some humorous experiences to cherish and relay. He laughs, “The funniest situation was at a One On One show at the NCPA — I had to kick an imaginary object and my shoe flew off and plummeted into the audience! Fortunately, no one was sitting in the spot it landed on.”
The intensely zealous performer believes in being a versatile entertainer, which isn’t surprising considering the mantra he lives by: “Our time on this planet is limited, so you’ve got to do as much as you can possibly do.” If not acting, he jokes that he would probably be a stripper, but right now, he’d really love to make a sci-fi film. “It may not be so much fun to shoot, but will be oh-so-much-fun to watch once the effects are in place.”
Bhoopalam is currently working on a new theatre piece called A Play On Death, directed by Kalki Koechlin, in addition to performing in The Merchant of Venice, One On One, and a play with BBC Radio. His theatre background, aside from teaching him valuable lessons and training him to succeed in other realms, has impacted his daily living. He explains, “You end up looking at your daily life like scenes in a script. It’s very entertaining, at least in my head!”
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