Driven by passion and commitment, 60-year-old Dr N.J. Bhikshu has won several accolades. The most recent is the Rangasthala Puraskaram, presented by the Rasamayi cultural organisation. A professor of Theatre Arts at the University of Hyderabad, Bhikshu grew up in Tenali on a heavy dose of cultural programmes held during Sri Rama Navami. “As a kid, I watched them with awe, especially the folk theatre plays. At 17, I shifted to Hyderabad and met like-minded people in my colony with whom I went to watch plays performed by current film stalwarts like Kota Srinivas, Nutan Prasad and others. We then started writing small skits and enacting them. I took up only part-time jobs so I had time for rehearsals,” explains Bhikshu.
Next, he received professional training in theatre from the Andhra Pradesh Theatre Institute and Repertory, on a scholarship. The stipend of `300, he felt, was more than enough to make a living. He then formed a troupe and performed for corporate companies to make money and establish their theatre group. Meanwhile, he did a PG in direction and a film appreciation course from Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, and went on to serve as a faculty in a reputed theatre school. Due to his insatiable appetite for knowledge, when University of Hyderabad started the MA course in Theatre, Bhikshu was asked to get on board as a faculty member, but he chose to join as a student. “I wanted to do my Masters and this was the only university in India to offer it at the time,” he says.
Bhikshu’s family was very supportive of his love for the art even though his father didn’t make much money. “There were times when I felt sad that I could not contribute enough to the family because I was not earning much with theatre, but at the same time, I couldn’t let go of it,” he says. He is grateful of his wife, Aruna Bhikshu, a Kuchipudi professor in the same university. “We have been through thick and thin. She helps me out with choreography and I help her out in lighting,” he says.
A multi-talented man
Within two years of practice, he learnt to play the Veena and even composed music for plays directed by legends like Ram Gopal Bajaj.
Despite his connections with the film industry, he chose to stay put in theatre. No wonder then, that the first Nandi award for theatre was presented to him. “I played a lead role in the film Kallu, but I wanted to promote Telugu theatre, so I stayed on stage,” he says.
His days at FTII exposed him to international classics in theatre and he chose to adapt the critically acclaimed Japanese film Roshomon into a Telugu play. “Usually, people only adapt plays into movies, but I find it interesting to go the other way. The challenge is to retain the spirit of the films, but still make it suitable for theatre audience,” he says.