Every school or college has that one teacher who’s really popular among the students. Hislop College in Nagpur can boast of having quite a few teachers like that and Dr Supantha Bhattacharyya surely makes the list. Bhattacharyya who teaches literature at Hislop College is also an active theatre person and is often seen taking to the stage. He also recently directed the play ‘Julius Caesar’ by William Shakespeare, which was staged at Chitnavis Centre, Nagpur. In a conversation with Nation Next, Dr Supantha Bhattacharyya speaks about two things he loves the most – teaching and theatre.
What exactly motivated you to become a teacher?
While being a student, I have had the privilege of learning from some excellent language teachers. I was taught by Ivan sir and Jacky sir in SFS School. While I was studying at Hislop College, I was taught by Dr Kutino and then when I went to Morris College, I was taught by Professor Naidu and Professor Mitra. While studying PGTT at the university, I came across teachers like Dr Paranjpe, Dr Kanade and Dr Buhariwala who were considered as legends of sorts at the university. All of these teachers became my role models over a period of time. I could see how they enjoyed themselves while teaching and that motivated me to be a professor myself.
So, while you were studying you had decided that you want to be a professor?
Absolutely! But initially I wanted to be physician and almost made it to the medical school. I could not however pursue medical studies due to some problems. I decided to switch streams later and study literature because I was always very fond of literature.
Why did you specifically choose literature?
I have always been a voracious reader. I would read in four languages – Bengali, English, Hindi and Marathi. I realized that writers have a unique voice and can reach out to a large chunk of readers. Each writer had something new to say, and I was getting enriched as I read their books. I never became a writer as I realized that I was just not good enough to become one! But then I thought, that I can at least talk about literature and can convey my likes and my preferences to my students.
What according to you is ‘good teaching’?
In my opinion, good teaching is making a student feel passionate about the subject. I teach literature and if I’m able to pass on some of the passion that I feel for literature to my students, I feel I have done a good job. Good teaching is also about instilling human values in the students rather than mechanical teaching of concepts and ideas.
You are quite popular among students. What do you think makes you so popular?
My classes are fun and very interactive. My teaching style is very informal, relaxed and dramatic. I have been known to dance for my students, sing and entertain them. I refuse to take myself seriously. I really enjoy teaching and have a blast in the class and I think that students can see that I am not faking it.
You are a theatre actor as well. While theatre teaches you how to learn, it also teaches you how to teach. Which aspect have you got more benefitted from out of the two?
Theatre has taught me to open up myself. An actor is somebody who literally bares his soul on the stage and I do that as a teacher too. Students can sense that I’m being genuine and not being somebody I’m not. An actor should always respect his audience and I respect my students very much. I have learnt not to treat my students as inferior. I have been so often surprised by how much my students know. So, every time I enter the class, it’s with a healthy respect for my audience.
Being a theatre lover, which are your favourite plays?
I have seen a lot of plays. When I was young, my father took me to see ‘Waiting for Godot’, which is one of the most iconic plays of the 20th Century. I love Mahesh Elkunchwar’s Aatmakatha and I feel really fortunate to have seen Dr Shriram Lagoo performing in it. I also loved Dr Lagoo in another Marathi play, ‘Surya Pahilela Manus’. These two plays are my all-time favourites. I have also seen Naseer Sahab perform and I consider him God when it comes to theatre.
Do you like cinema as well or your love is restricted to theatre?
I like watching movies but as an actor, theatre will always be my first love. Every time, I go on the stage, it’s like magic, sheer magic. For me, theatre is the basic medium so far as acting is considered. I played a part in Mike, a film which was made by Nagpurians two years back. Then I have been a part of one or two short films. I find films very mechanical. On stage you are live, there is an audience watching you and there is a fear of making a mistake and all this gives you a kick. On the other hand when you’re on a film set, everything is very mechanical. They keep changing the lights, you have to give the same shot a number of times and there’s less scope of spontaneity. Theatre isn’t like that, it’s electrifying. I keep telling my friends that I would like to die while acting on the stage!
If you were not a professor, what you think you would have been?
I would have definitely enrolled at NSD (National School of Drama) and become a stage actor. I would have devoted my entire life to theatre.
Tell us something about you that your students aren’t aware of?
Like all actors, I too suffer from insecurities. There is always a constant fear that I may not be up to the mark. I have always had a fear of failure. There’s always a certain section in the audience which admires my work and I fear that maybe my next performance may not be up to the mark and they’ll probably say that this wasn’t expected from Supantha. I’m also short tempered. But post marriage, I think I have mellowed down and my wife is to be thanked for that!