Atul Kumar is an actor, a director and theater artist. He was 14 when he first started his acting career and started looking for the professional theater experience. At 19, he directed his first play called “A Respectable Prostitute.” He played the role of a female prostitute in it. As a child, he wanted to become
. He started theater after the death of his father and believes that had his father not died he wouldn’t have been in it and would had been a “Lala,” selling dry fruits.
Every Orthodox Marwari family was usually in business, and so was his. They owned dry-fruits shops in Khari Boali. He lived in Gali Tota Maina, near Tilak Bazaar in Old Delhi and dozens of cinema theaters surrounded his house. He used to go to them and watch every movie. Thus his love for acting took wings. His mother moved out his father’s house after his death. She enrolled him in an English Medium school named St. Xavier’s. At the school, he was by chance asked to do a part in a play and so begin his acting journey.
Then he started taking part in Inter-school competitions and became popular in school drama societies. He won prizes and medals, for he was excellent at theater. He left Hansraj College, Delhi University in the middle of the course and took admission in JNU, Delhi to learn French. He was inspired by Ionesco and Genet and wanted to read their work in their language. He often used to go to Mandi House to watch the theater at Shri Ram Centre and one day
, who were part of a group named Chingaari, spotted him when he was watching “Jaat Hi Poocho Sadhu Ki.” The makers were fascinated by a young boy watching theater alone and asked him to audition for them. He was only 16 when he joined Chingaari.
In 1990, he learned Kalaripayattu and Kathakali for three years after he saw regional theater. All his life people, who praised European theater surrounded him, this was the first time he got in touch with the Indian presentation of it. He saw that his guru was inspired by these dance forms and he wanted to understand his inspiration. He tried to learn from Manipuri guru Thiyam, but he only taught in regional language. Then he learned from Kerala based guru named Panicker. After this, he moved to Paris, France and worked with Philippe Genty. He went to Sacramento Theatre Company in California, USA to hone his skills.
In 1997, he moved to Bombay because his wife wanted to pursue acting seriously. He also wanted to come to Bombay as he knew that it was the place where the audience revered theater arts. In 1993, he started a company named “The Company Theatre.” He launched it at Prithvi International Theatre Festival with “The Chairs.” He is the artistic director of it. The festival was brought to Delhi by his friend and guide
. Sachin Kamani has a lot of responsibilities at the company, and the most important of all is to keep the stage running. He markets Atul’s and Rajat Kapoor's’ plays. He makes sure that the company has at least one play on the stage every month. They do about 100 shows per year.
He probably is the only theater artist who makes a living through theater arts. He is a shrewd minded businessman who has made the company a well- known name with his networking skills and hard work. In 2012, he opened an artiste’s residency called The Company Theatre Workspace in Kamshet, Maharashtra, India. At the residency, they create new plays and host international artists. The workspace gives a place to visiting artists to live and practice their parts. He believes he cannot direct himself. He needs an outsider to guide him, and he found that in Rajat Kapoor. Most of his plays are with Rajat Kapoor, such as Nothing like Lear, C for Clown and Hamlet.
Soon after he shifted to Bombay, he started taking small roles in commercial cinema such as Mangal Pandey. His networking skills made the task easy. He took up such projects as theater work didn’t pay much and he needed money to pay the bills. He didn’t stick to phase longer and made a path of his. In 2008, the play The Blue Mug became a hit because the actors in the play were movie stars. It was the revival of the same play, which was opened in 2002 and didn’t do well. Most of his plays are inspiration from Shakespeare’s plays.
is among the great actors and theater artists who have praised his work and talent, time and again. Kusum Haidar, a well-known theater artist, doesn’t like his work much, but she says that she is happy with the service he is doing to the theater.
is filming a documentary on his life. She says that she is doing it because he is handsome and no one has brought the art form to such success as he has. For Asian Paints, he did a Twitter campaign named Speechless where people would tweet about a speechless moment in their lives and within 30 minutes Atul would send a video of their moments mimed. The campaign was successful.
Vijay Krishna Acharya
(Director of Dhoom 3) were together in DU. Atul was in Hansraj and Vijay in Kirori Mal College. Vijay says that Atul is an explorer and always on the lookout for new things, which is his strength. He is married (third time) to Racheal D’Souza, whom he met 11 years ago. He has a daughter from his first marriage, named Noor. She says that marrying such a passionate man is difficult, but his passion is something that she admires a lot. Today he thinks he has at least ten years of drama left in him and after that, he will move to realistic drama.
In 2014, his play Piya Behroopiya a Hindi adaptation of Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night won Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards. He has received the Chevening Fellowship, Charles Wallace Scholarship, and French Cultural Fellowship to learn theater arts in Europe. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre invited him to direct plays for their International Theatre Festival in U.K. He has worked at International Network for Cultural Diversity, Canada, as a Committee member. Recently he did a role in movie ‘
’ with the likes of
Konkona Sen Sharma