Lushin Dubey: Scorches the Stage

Lushin Dubey is a woman of Substance. A combination of beauty and brains, to look at her you would never think she has a MA in History and a MSc in Special Education with six years of experience teacging differently abled children in India and abroad. In her words, she  “pioneered theatre in Delhi with children through Kidsworld (Full disclosure: co-founded with me) with over 75 blockbuster musicals to their credit. Wearing both hats of Director and Actor with ease, Lushin decided  to focus on socially relevant theatre in 1995. She took from life and gave back to it. Staging solo plays such as Untitled, Bitter Chocolate, Aruna’s Story Lushin has played multiple characters with dexterity and I have witnessed an explosion of talent and passion onstage. Lushin has performed at the World Bank, Smithsonian, Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford (US), The Nehru Centre, The Edinbugh Fringe among many and has also won the Edinburgh Fringe First in UK for Othello in Black and White. Besides this she has acted in over 14 films and TV serials, and is a published author. Let’s look at an actress who scorches the stage! 

Q. How deeply has theatre shaped your life? Is it now a part of you ?

There is no question that theatre occupies a large fraction of my life. Images of its entry into my life are vivid. In grade 4, in St. Mary's School, Pune, I won a first prize in an international theatre festival. All of 9 years old, I wore a bob-cut wig, long white gloves and high heels ( I called them ‘tak-tak joote’, which I coerced my mother into buying me ) and played the role of a divorcee! A further decisive moment came for me, when at the age of 13, my elder sister Lillete led me by the hand into the hallowed portals of TAG (Theatre Action Group ) with Barry John as Artistic director. (TAG under BJ was to produce many great actors , including Shah Rukh Khan and Manoj Bajpai). I opted for a BA and MA in History but theatre always took a front seat! In college, I would bunk classes to study my script behind LSR corridor walls! I refused to enter the Miss LSR contest, because we were travelling with a play in a few days ! Theatre had inescapably entered my life!

In the US, after my MSc in education, I used theatre as a tool to impart education to my differently abled students, and later I did the same in the American Embassy School in Delhi. It then flourished on a private mini stage, at home with my two little jewels, my girls Ilina and Tara. No doubt inspired by them I decided to go public and founded Kidsworld for children’s theatre in 1989, along with my cousin, Bubbles.

Kidsworld burst upon the stage with innumerable blockbusters Jungle Book, Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast, and originals plays such as Jungle Book Se Aage, and most recently, Wizwits which we staged (over 175 shows!) at Kingdom of Dreams.

Fifteen years ago, there came to me another restlessness — an urge to break free of “dead habit”.

I worked with several NSD directors, produced and acted in the lead with many Shakespearean plays with Roysten Abel. A fairly prolific outpouring in just two years: Measure for Measure, Macbeth, Merchant of Venice and finally Othello in Black and White which won the Edinburgh Fringe First Award. I played Lady Macbeth again in the legendary director Alyque Padamsee’s tantric version of Macbeth. In 2002, I shifted focus to socially relevant theatre and directed and acted in originals and meaningful theatre. With the birth of Theatreworld, Bubbles and I scripted and directed ' The Life of Gautama Buddha.

I performed 4 solos,Untitled, Bitter Chocolate, I Will Not Cry and Aruna’s Story, with Arvind Gaur as director. I directed and acted in  three original works myself, Salaam India, Ji Saabji and Muskaan. Theatre had weaved itself into my life inextricably ....

It had become...My comrade..A healer of my lows...My adrelin booster...Instiller of faith in myself....My closest friend...


Q. What are your views on children's theatre in Delhi? In India and abroad ?

In all honesty, I have not seen a lot of children’s theatre in the capital! I have been too busy and involved creating it! Having said this, in the children’s theatre that I have witnessed, at NSD and other places, schools for example — I have never ceased to be fascinated by plays created by kids... they are free spirits in their imagination and would give many an adult a run for their money! One day , I do believe Kidsworld will back “Little Directors” and give them a podium to showcase their work! In the children’s theatre I have seen abroad, it is pretty much the same — where they do score higher is in viewing theatre as a “mandatory” subject at school level which is wonderful! And of course in the US there is the Performing Arts School, where children are trained exclusively in this art form, from a very early age.

Q. The actress in you and the director in you — Is there ever a clash?

On the contrary I think if you are a director cum actor it helps in both roles. As a director I can’t help but put myself in the shoes of the actor, physically and psychologically. Those very detailed demands that I inflict on the actor as a director are the ones I would inflict on myself as an actor!

Raising the bar for myself as a director and for that actor on stage is all in all not such a bad thing , because I am conscious of synchronising between the two.

Q.What do you enjoy more?

In life, like so many other things you engage in, I guess you enjoy what gives you maximum fulfillment. As a director for stage, as an actor on stage, my quotient of fulfillment and joy has been equally high.

Q.Theatre versus Film— How powerful is either? Where does your allegiance lie?

Both are powerful mediums. For me it is like comparing apples with oranges. But they are different mediums. On screen less is more — on stage more is often not enough, or too much!

I think you have to maintain a balance in both mediums, and this surely must happen when you are experienced with the craft pertaining to the medium. On screen, though I have acted in 15 films and three serials on prime channels, I would say only three roles have challenged me as an actor! The rest have been small roles. It’s hard for me to comment on my allegiance when I have experienced theatre in a more fuller sense than I have films...

Q.Any role that has stayed with you longer than it should have?

Many roles are special, particularly in my solos and in some of the plays that I have directed, where I have in the span of an hour, skated through more than 8 to 10 characters. Those stand out for me. In my solo Untitled for instance, where I work with puppets, the characterization of the puppet, required a lot of concentration. The role of the mother, Kuljeet in the CBC film, Murder Unveiled was special because it was challenging to play a woman who was secretive and repressed and yet master minded the killing of her own daughter

Kudos Lushin! May your pilgrim soul always find its way onstage!

(Sabharwal is a theatre director and author)

Bubbles Sabharwal