The Raconteur of NITR: Nalini Nihar Nayak
When it comes to Dramatics in NIT, Rourkela, the man behind its immense success, takes the forefront. team MM got a chance to interview Mr. Nalini Nihar Nayak, Student Activity Officer at NITR, who was recently awarded the most prestigious, National Natya Bibhushan Award. Below are the excerpts from the interview.
MM: Guide us through your memories of childhood.
Nalini Nihar Nayak : I am that typical village boy. I started my education at an Odia medium school called Chandiagari High School in Gavadi a village. At that time, my father was a Subedar in the Indian Army. I was a great achiever when it came to academics. I had managed to score 53% in my matriculation, without cheating. It was something instilled in my very core of being that I should and never cheat to get ahead in life. The cause of my academic scores was because my talents lied elsewhere; I was famous in my district from as early as my 8th standard, for being good at debates, fancy dress and mono-acting. I had already realised that either engineering and medical sciences were not my cup of tea. I knew I could study but I was sure nothing much would ever come out of it and at the same time, I had also realised the fact that I could excel if I nurtured my speaking skills in my regional language.
MM: How did drama and acting enter your life?
NN - As far as I remember, I have been into performing arts since class four. At that time, the board of secondary education, Odisha had a teacher’s association which used to organise various state-level literary competitions in which I stood first for three consecutive years. After my matriculation, I applied for the department of drama in Utkal Sangeet University, a part of Utkal University back then. It was one of the primary art colleges of India, being established in 1964. There were ten departments under arts including dance, music, and theatre. From which I completed my +2, +3, my masters’ degree all with a gold medal to show for and completed my M. Phil in drama with a gold medal as well, from the Utkal University of Culture which only had the department of performing and visual arts. The basic point is you have to retain the art you have within and not let it go down the drain. Although I defied my parents’ orders. It surely is never good to disobey parents but since I knew what I was capable of, I didn’t give up. I did shows in Thailand, Germany, Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh and all over India. I received the young adult scholarship from the ministry of culture in 2005, and in 2010 I got a call from the honorable presidential house to join a band of 50 artists from over 17 Asian countries, I worked with various Padma Bhushan awardees, I have written various articles, plays, worked as an assistant professor at Utkal University of Culture and the list goes on. Finally, I got a job as a Student activity Officer here at NIT Rourkela in December 2011.
MM: What were the initial struggles you had to face in this choice of the career?
NN: Since I was from a lower-middle-class family, there had always been some monetary issues, not that we didn’t have enough but it was not meant for these “unconventional “ form of making money as my father used to say. My grandfather was a landlord and had an adequate amount of land. The problem was of how my parents saw acting. It was a derogatory occupation for them, with no job security. They wanted me to do a diploma at least. “What is in there for you in acting?” they said. It had my dignity and self-respect that no one could understand until I proved it to them. In 1998, I packed my things in a small trunk and came to Bhubaneswar sitting on the roof of a bus, with 200 rupees in my pocket. This was the final step I took. It started with secretly filling forms that I procured through neighbors and filling them when everyone was asleep and post it. My father had always been in disagreement. In that time we used to write letters. When my father came to know that I had fled from home, he wrote a letter to mother advising her to stop sending me money and I would eventually return back home. They didn’t know I had a firm resolve. I gave an interview, got success and got to chance to study under eminent Odia actors like Bijaya Mohanty, Ajit Das who were the alumni of National School of Drama, New Delhi. It was very tough to convince my parents, although in my heart I knew, even though I couldn’t be a king, I could pave someone else’s way to the throne. It was tough to manage the theory classes and academics. Initially, I had to paste posters on the walls of sets just to break bread. I even faced ragging. One of my seniors, who is an eminent actor now, used to hand me over all his household chores, including washing clothes, bringing tea etc. I didn’t complain, rather took it as a lesson. I never support ragging but I tried to find something positive in the negative. Soon he stopped giving me work. He instead started sharing his notes and urged me to study. I think my dedication paid off. Soon I went on to talk shows on TV, and word started spreading in my village. At that time, a five-minute appearance on TV was a huge thing. Soon it reached my father’s ears and finally, he melted a little and started sending monetary help. By that time, my economic status had also improved a bit.
MM: How does it feel to receive the National Natya Bibhushan award?
NN: It feels great, I feel very privileged to be the recipient of this award. When I was being awarded, people from around 40 countries had gathered to witness the event, which was the 26th India Theatre Olympiad. All of them gave me a standing ovation, it was a proud moment. On the other hand, I was scared too. Achieving excellence is commendable, but the real job is to maintain your credibility. It added more responsibility on my shoulders. I am afraid, tomorrow if slack off at my work, people may start wondering if I deserved the award in the first place. So I have to double my input and take each step more vigilantly. I just feel that when your passion and profession merge, nothing can stop you.
MM: What are your views on the scope of Dramatics and Cinematics in an Engineering College such as NIT Rourkela?
NN: In this college, many of my scripts, for example, Vyaghra Rohan has won national accolades. Just because it is an engineering college, we cannot undermine the artist that lies within them. Of course, most of them will get jobs with handsome salaries. It is their choice to go with the job or pursue dramatics. I believe that do whatever makes you feel it is worth doing. Sometimes a career in acting may not pay you well initially, but if that’s where your heart lies, the satisfaction you get is incomparable. I have worked with the students of NIT Rourkela in various slums, performing street plays which have been major hits. Many of my gurus are from an engineering background, so all I can say that there is always a scope to rise and shine.
MM: How was your experience in managing a fest of the grandeur like that of the multi-ethnic? What were your thoughts when it was discontinued?
NN: I choose not to comment on the latter part of the question. The multi-ethnic fest is nothing like other fests. It is purely indigenous. It includes all the forms of arts present in India. Be it Bihu dance from Assam, Kathak from North India, RabindraSangeet from West Bengal, everything is given an opportunity, hence the students witness a chance to discover the rich heritage of India and realize the rich culture of our nation that may sometimes go unnoticed when we delve into western arts. Having such a fest in a technical college of national recognition is a great achievement per se.
MM: How was your experience while scrutinizing the performances for this year’s freshers? Especially when Ritvic was held out for using expletive content?
NN: I agree, the performance at the freshers by not only Ritvic but also Pantomime was less than what lies in their potential. We expected more from them. But as they say, the show must go on. They have realized where they lack, and they are just children. They perform with elegance even without any professional learning experience which is commendable. Hence we cannot be too harsh on them. They have promised that next time will definitely be better, which was evidently visible on Independence Day. A little bit of tweaking laced with motivation and hard work is all they need. I have complete faith in them.
MM: As a mentor to both the dramatics club what words of wisdom/motivation would you like to give them?
NN: The first and foremost thing is that there are no shortcuts to success. The more shortcuts you find the farther you will move from your actual goal. Just do your duty and focus on your target, without getting frustrated. Be completely honest with yourself. Have faith in God, sometimes things may not work at that very moment but eventually, they will if you never stopped believing. The spirit lies within. Take the example of dedication from Eklavya, purity of mind from Vivekananda.
Whatever you may do, even if you earn a lot of money, but doing something for the people so and hence the place you’ve inherently earned in their heart will be your life’s true earning.