By Dr. Neeta Deshpande
Shreeram Lagoo, Girish Oak, Mohan Agashe, Ken Jeong…… what do these actors have in common? Yes, they are all basically qualified as medical doctors. Did the acting bug bite these doctors randomly, or is there a common thread?
One would think that the performing arts are a far cry from the rigours of qualifying to be a doctor considering that it is one of the hardest and most labour intensive degrees to obtain. On the one hand, an actor is creative, sensitive and artistic. On the other, a doctor is matter of fact, nerdy and wedded to his profession to the exclusion of all else. But, on the contrary, I think there is a deep connection. In no other profession is one exposed to such a plethora of emotions and situations, that allows one a peep into the entire dynamics, economics and inter personal relationships within a family and society. Breaking the news to patients and their loved ones of death, birth, a diagnosis of incurable diseases such as cancer and diabetes, are all packaged into a working day of a doctor. The joy, ecstasy, devastation, agony are but a few of the emotions that a doctor has to behold on a daily basis. These observations make a good doctor. And these very observations can make a potentially good actor. After all, art imitates life!
A doctor in the throes of a personal tragedy needs to smile and look positive when facing a patient. That is a performance. A doctor, who is ecstatic about a personal triumph, may be breaking the news of a death to the deceased’s loved one. That is a performance. In a doctor’s life, the lines between personal emotions and portrayed ones at a given time may be blurred. Isn’t that what performance and acting is all about?
Doctors are a harried lot. I wish medical schools would include a subject on “How to relax” in the course curriculum. Most doctors wonder how they could get through a Sunday! That a life outside of medical practice exists is an alien thought to many. Dedication is a worthy value to possess. But not to the detriment of one’s psychological and emotional well being. The performing arts—theatre, music, and dance are all powerful outlets for all people in general and doctors in particular.
Another attribute that a doctor is always saddled with is “serious”. And the doctors take this so seriously that “serious” becomes not only a part of their outer demeanour, but also inner psyche! This comes with another tag – “reserved”. And then comes the next tag – “boring”! But the new generation of doctors do not conform to these stereotypes.
Belgaum, fortunately, has always been a cultural haven. So when a few enterprising doctors from our group got this exciting idea of forming a permanent body to get involved in cultural activities, particularly theatre, we did not have to look far to get an excellent guide. We found her in Mrs Neeta Kulkarni of Niyati Creations, a dramatist from Belgaum, who had trained under none other than Vijaya Mehta. Some of us had already acted in amateur plays. Mrs Kulkarni had been involved in IMA social activities in the past 2-3 years, helping out with plays and skits. But some of us wanted to do this on an ongoing basis, as it promised to be a superb recreational and personally satisfying endeavour. Dr Savita Kaddu, a gynaecologist, took the lead in getting Mrs Kulkarni to conduct a theatre workshop for us. Savita had already done the workshop under her and had benefitted tremendously from it, not only as an actor, but also as a person, widening her circle of friends to include non-medical individuals, something that does not come easily to doctors!
This workshop is currently ongoing, being conducted by Mrs Neeta Kulkarni in 15 sessions, and she is being assisted by Mr Abhijeet Deshpande. In Mrs Kulkarni’s own words, “Teaching theatre to doctors has been an amazing experience. They are all specialists in their respective fields. Inspite of their busy and hectic schedules, they manage to make the time for the workshop. Their enthusiasm, dedication and commitment towards theatre surprises me.” Dr Milind Halgekar, paediatrician, wishes that we had thought of this earlier, as life would have been different!
The group, still in its infancy, is called “Medicos Cultural Group”. On World Diabetes Day this year, we staged a small play called “Saakhar Puraan”, a maiden venture of this group. It was written and directed by Mrs Neeta Kulkarni. We hope to do much more in the future, on a regular basis.
Doctors heal patients. Theatre, drama and music is therapeutic for us.