In The Spotlight: Ebi Shankara

With the much awaited Ghost Writer just 2 days away, we had to speak to our own Vasantham Star who is part of the cast. He shares with us his journey on how he has made it to where he is today. An inspirational person. One that all of us should look up to. If you ask me, , this young man is probably one of the most talented individuals in our community.

How did you get interested in Acting?

I got involved in theatre when I was in Secondary school. The interest was already there when I was a kid. My mom used to send me to Julie Gabriel for Speech and Drama classes. I kinda stopped it halfway due to other commitments during primary school(soccer & band). I got reintroduced to it in secondary school and just ran with it from then. 

Were you balancing all of that at a such a delicate age?

Well, football took precedence. But it died off when I was 15 when I was injured. I tried my best to juggle everything. I had the energy and time to. 

Any Favourite club?

I used to be a very big fan of Jurong FC locally and am an ardent Manchester United fan. 
How did the theatre involvement happen in Secondary School?

My Literature teacher was also the head of Drama Society. I always had the love and flair for the English Language. I loved English literature as well. She kinda egged me on. It was purely an interest. I never really considered it as a career until I was turning 16 when I got a big break with Wild Rice.

I went to audition. Selena Tan and Ivan Heng were very impressed. Although I had auditioned for a role in the kids' ensemble, She asked me to come onboard the Adult ensemble. That was how it began. I worked professionally in the age of 15. I started falling in love with the craft.

Was it a natural choice to build on this early successes when you graduated from Secondary School?

To be honest, I did not do very well in my O Levels. I failed my maths. I was so fixated on going to a Junior College but that could not happen. All of a sudden, there were so many poly courses that was open to me. My drama facilitator encouraged me to give NAFA a try. My mom, was naturally not keen on the drama route but was supportive. She was behind me. For her, as long as I am doing something, I had to give my best and excel. That was her condition.

I went for NAFA auditions. NAFA came in with a scholarship. I did my Diploma in Theatre Arts. It was a 3 year course. While I was studying, I took on odd jobs in theatre industry and worked my way up.

So, while all of this was happening, how did Vasantham Star squeeze itself to find you?

This was in 2007. I have always enjoyed singing. I never considered myself a singer and still don't. I just so happen to be able to sing. It makes me happy. My aunt, who was the reason I went for the acting auditions when I was 15 also pushed me for this one. I just went there to give it a shot. There was no expectation. It just snowballed. Before I knew it, I was in the finals and by God's grace, I won.

How did that change your life?

I cannot understate or overplay it at the same time. Vasantham Star did give me overnight stardom. It opened many mini opportunities in life that led to greater things.  One such important example is the opportunity to host National day Parade 2008. That is when I met Adrian Pang who would play a very big part in who I am today as a theatre practitioner, post NS.

After V-star, I had National Service. I did do theatre here and there. I worked with Sivakumar Palakrishnan on Mani that eventually became a television drama and  was very well-received on stage.

Back to Adrian Pang, I met him when we both hosted NDP.  He took to me and he told me that if he ever staged the play  Full Monty  he would cast me. In my mind, I was like, Adrian Pang casting me.... who am I? ..I am a nobody.. He will forget me eventually... But...

Two years later, 2010, I received a random call from Adrian Pang. He told me about the Full Monty. That man kept to his word. In this day and age, where a man's word holds little weight.. I have faced many instances when people have told me something but never got back to me, this man remembered me even after 2 years. That was amazing and kick started everything.

After Full Monty, other theatre practitioners started being acquainted to me. That's when I started getting TV and stage opportunities. I started getting more work. One led to another and here I am.

Tell us About Ghost Writer

It has been a very interesting process since its first incarnation in Gitanjali staged 2 years ago. That was a bold effort by TNS and Haresh Sharma wanting to explore relationships in an Indian context which is rather rare in the mainstream theatre. TNS took a bold step in doing that, with the accompaniment and co-existence of sound and multimedia, which made it a weird, yet frustrating, yet beautiful experience for a theatre practitioner. I was constantly loss. I did not have massive amount of narrative to root the character down. 

When it finished, I did feel dissatisfied for not giving it my best. This time round, with Ghost Writer, we took the essence from Gitanjali. but its an entirely different monster with no traces from Gitanjali

It is such an interesting mix of dance, body movements and sound. Bani Haykal's sound is amazing. When we started, we were lost. we did not have foothold. But, somehow, Haresh Sharma has a knack of finding words that you can connect the dots to as a performer to form your own trajectory. Its beautiful because when we start to understand where we are going, the audience can see the relationships between each character.

I can't condense Ghost Writer and call it a dance or a play. This is performance art in its fullest sense. 

Tell us more about your character 

I am son, a husband and a friend. His name is Shankara. He is me but he is also not me. That is the beauty of the process. You start of improvising of yourself and you start to peel off layers that disconnect you from the character you have created. The disconnecting process was the beauty of it as layers are peeled off me or added to firm up the character.

Its not Ebi Shankara. It was just Shankara, the character.

You are also on Vasantham Television, appearing as a doctor in Vallamai Thaarayo . Is there a difference in the experience?

That is yet another beautiful experience because working with the director Veerendra from Frames is just enlightening. He is truly a visionary where directing is concerned and such an intelligent person. You are always learning around him. Acting for screen is entirely a different ball game.

Its a misconception that a theatre actor can do television. People like  Puravalan, Sivakumar Palakrishnan,  Udaya Soundari and Mohan are fantastic  actors who have done well in both theatre and screen but it may not always be the case.

I have grown to respect screen acting. There are many major differences technically. They are 2 different mediums.

Why should one watch Ghost Writer?

Be it theatre, dance or music, our Indian community should come forth and support our own talent.  The more they support us, the more we can grow and showcase ourselves. This society is not the friendliest of sorts to local artistes, most notably the Indian community. There is always this stigma attached to Arts being a non viable career. The only way we can combat this is with support.

Its ironical that the Indian culture is one that is so rich in the arts yet faces little support. The $15 u spend on a movie, top up a little and watch a play. We need to revive our culture.

There are limited tickets left. Catch them on SISTIC.

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