“I am Nikhila Kesavan and I’ve been working as an actor and director in English theatre for over two decades.
As a child, I always loved performing on stage, but it was during my college days that I set my heart on theatre. After my schooling, I realised that I was drawn towards literature and so I decided to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature. During my early twenties, when I was studying at JBAS College for Women (formerly SIET), a theatre festival called ‘Natak’ took place (organized by Masquerade) and I got the opportunity to act in the play put up by my college. To my surprise, I received a special mention for acting, and therein began my passion for theatre.
The following year, I directed my college’s entry for Natak. We were competing with the best colleges in the city, renowned for their legacy in theatre. We won the festival, bagging 5 awards across various categories. Back then, this was a very big deal for all of us. Natak helped me drift from collegiate to the mainstream theatre.
While pursuing my Master’s degree in Communication at MOP Vaishnav College for Women, I adapted a short story by Jhumpa Lahiri for stage and directed this play. The success of this production gave me the confidence to focus on doing original stage adaptations.
I started working as an actor with various directors and theatre groups in 2001. In the early years, it was quite challenging to get roles. I would often be told during auditions and readings that I looked and sounded ‘Indian’. This was one of the reasons that led me to take on directing.
As a director, I chose to work with contemporary Indian English content, as opposed to foreign plays or English translations of Indian plays. It was at this point that I thought of adapting contemporary Indian novels in English into plays. I started by adapting Chetan Bhagat’s “Five Point Someone” for the stage.
It took me four months to convince him and get his permission. This play premiered in 2007 and in a span of 18 months, we did 21 performances. We did many shows in Chennai and travelled with it to other cities as well. It was also featured at The Hindu Theatre Fest in Hyderabad.
It’s been more than 20 years since I started directing plays but I continue to be just as excited with every new project. I am so thankful to my parents, parents-in-law, 7-year-old kid and husband for supporting me, and giving me the space to pursue my passion.
For the last 20 years, I have planned every aspect of my life around my theatre life—my postgraduation, my corporate job, marriage, and motherhood. Theatre has been the core of my existence. Alongside my theatre career, I have been working in the Public Relations (PR) industry for 18 years. Currently, I’m the Vice President of one of the oldest and largest Technology PR firms in the country. I am loyal to my employers—I have been with the same company for 18 years—because they understand and appreciate my love for theatre.
All these years, I have led a double life—office in the morning, theatre in the evening and weekends. I act, direct, write, and we travel with our plays to different cities when possible. I think, you just have to keep working, doing what you love, and leave it to the Universe to work everything else out for you.”