Even though he has had a successful career spanning almost two decades in theater, Rajkumar Pudasaini claims his stumble into the world of acting was purely accidental. It was during a break after his SLC exams, post which he was planning on study commerce, when he watched a theatrical show at the Rastriya Naach Ghar and was so fascinated by the act that it just ‘sucked him in’.
“After that, I dropped by the Naach Ghar to watch at least one show every day,” recalls Pudasaini adding that he joined the Rastriya Naach Ghar’s training program for theatrics in 1998, after completing his high school.
Pudasaini, who had moved from his hometown Kumari in Nuwakot to Kathmandu after his eighth grade exams to further his studies, was then mentored by Anup Baral, Harihar Sharma, Prabhakar Sharma and Birendra Hamal, who Pudasaini names as his first teacher on theatrics and who, a few years later, established MR theatre, where Pudasaini started working as an actor.
Pudasaini claims that his batch, which was the second batch of the Rastriya Naach Ghar theater trainees, were probably the luckiest ones ever because instead of paying for the training program they were the ones getting paid.
“At that time, there were not many Nepali individuals who were interested in theater so they decided to pay those who would join the program in order to attract more people. We were paid Rs 300 per month, which might sound like a measly amount right now but it was more than what I had expected as my first salary,” he says.
The year after that, he joined AAVASH, another theater program, at the Russian Center of Science and Culture, for a few months before returning to the MR theater team. During this period he had developed steady acquaintance and friendships with other theater artists.
It was around this time Sunil Pokharel came up with the idea for Gurukul and he had invited over quite a few theater enthusiasts to discuss it further but Pudasaini was not one of those lucky ones. “To this day I don’t really know whether he genuinely forgot to invite me or he remembered but just didn’t bother. It didn’t matter though, because as soon as I heard about it from a fellow trainee, and this was at the last possible minute, I made up my mind about being there. So I just showed up at his house uninvited,” says Pudasaini.
And Pokharel seemingly took this unexpected visit positively as he had seen Pudasaini’s performance a few times and had been quite impressed. That was how Pudasaini started what he calls his real journey into the theater world at Gurukul, mentored by Pokharel himself.
However, trainings at Gurukul were completely different from that of the Rastriya Naach Ghar. While the Rastriya Naach Ghar provided the educational and theoretical side to theatrics, Gurukul was more about practical and intuitive experience. Pokharel prioritized self-discovery and spiritual learning so he encouraged everyone at Gurukul to focus more on these aspects.
Pudasaini acted in about 15 dramas during his Gurukul days including Agni ko Katha, Thamel ko Yatra, Doll’s House (Putali ko Ghar), Khari ko Ghero, Bukhyacha, Oedipus Rex, Pani Photo, Bathi Rani, Tarabaji Lai Lai, and Ghanchakkar. Pudasaini names Ghanchakkar as his most favorite and most challenging work till date. Ghanchakkar was based on a novel of the same name by Sanjeev Upreti and Pudasaini portrayed five different characters in its theatrical adaptation.
Today, Pudasaini is also quite the expert at stage light management and designing. He picked up these skills during his training periods at different programs and organizations over the course of his career. He has also mentored some classes on theatrics at Rato Bangla School in Patan. But his acting talents haven’t been limited to just the stage and mentorships. He has starred in many Nepali movies as well.
“But it was my theater performance that bagged me roles in movies,” says Pudasaini adding that his role in Oh! Star Duniya directed by Anup Baral that had been showcased at Sarwanam Theater by Actor’s Studio was the reason why he was offered movies in the first place. However, Pudasaini wasn’t quick to accept every proposal that came his way and rejected a lot of projects before selecting a few good ones.
“I’m still very selective about movies because I don’t agree with many of the ways in which the film industry seems to operate,” he states. “The problem with the Nepali film industry is in its presentation. There are great scripts but when it comes to shooting and editing the scenes, that’s where it all goes wrong,” he adds.
According to Pudasaini, the camera angles, voice dubbing, lighting and editing are areas that need the most work because these are some of the most important elements that make up a movie and, more often than not, all of these aspects of filmmaking are given very little attention.
He jokingly confesses that being so selective does leave him with enough hours to do what he loves the most, which is go on hikes and explore places around Kathmandu. Also, despite his skepticism about Nepali cinema, Pudasaini is also a movie buff. But he sticks to psychological thrillers that make him think hours after finishing them instead of watching Nepali films. “I’m also someone who likes to spend time locked up in my room just thinking about things,” he concludes adding that when he isn’t performing or out discovering new hiking trails, you will most definitely find him holed up in his house.