All the world’s a stageWhen veteran actor Bishnu Bhakta Phuyal suddenly collapsed on stage on Tuesday, many of the other artists and the play’s producers thought that he was just improvising, like he had done so many times before.
When veteran actor Bishnu Bhakta Phuyal suddenly collapsed on stage on Tuesday, many of the other artists and the play’s producers thought that he was just improvising, like he had done so many times before. Phuyal, who at the ripe age of 79 was still very active in Nepal’s theatre scene, had a penchant for improvisations. But portraying King Janak, in Satya Mohan Joshi’s Maharsi Yagyavalkya, the sudden departure from the script struck even his closest collaborators as odd.
Actor Siromani Dhungana, who had worked closely with Phuyal in the past, narrates what happened before the veteran actor collapsed on stage: “He was totally fit before the staging of the play began. We were through to the final thirty minutes of the play. Not long after Phuyal completed delivering a dialogue sequence, there was a scene where another actor was to collapse on stage. Before Phuyal collapsed, he gestured at us with his hands. For a moment, we thought he was improvising. But since he was lying unconscious, we knew something was wrong and we rushed him to Bir Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“I was always interested in plays that explore religious motifs, so this was an exciting opportunity for me, even more so because I knew I would be sharing the stage with the veteran actor. Over the years that I worked with him, he was always very inspiring. Artists, once they reach a certain level, grow greedy of the limelight but Phuyal always shied away from it. He was only focussed on what he was doing,” Dawadi added.
Dawadi also mentioned that the young generation could learn a lot from Phuyal’s dedication to his art and his tireless perseverance. “At various points over the years, we tried to persuade him to rest because he was getting old. But he remained adamant about continuing acting. Despite his age, when he came on stage, he always possessed a youthful exuberance.”
The director of the play, Badri Adhikari, who had been close to Phuyal ever since they shared screens on the much-loved tele-serial Abiral Bagdachha Indravati, said he had little doubts before approaching actor Phuyal for the play. “When we decided to stage Satya Mohan Joshi’s latest play and were casting for King Janak’s role, Phuyal was the first name that came up—he was just what we were looking for.”
“During the conversations I have had with him,” Adhikari continued, “he often said that he wanted an ‘Ichhyamaran’—to die while he did what he loved, and that’s exactly what happened. So I won’t say it was an untimely death. It goes without saying that he was a very accomplished actor; moreover, what stands out about him is the sense of discipline and punctuality that he always possessed. I haven’t known a single day when he came to the rehearsals late. Many young actors would be late, but Phuyal was always punctual. I first worked with him in the film Dushman, which I directed. He was as effervescent till his very last day, as he was when I first worked with him. It’s just astonishing how he managed to maintain that exuberance through all these years.”
Born in 1937, in Bageshwori, Bhaktapur, Phuyal did not have an easy childhood. Having lost his father just days after his birth, he was already working as a labourer in hotels at the tender age of 10. It was during his arduous upbringing that Phuyal fell in love with theatre, sneaking out to watch plays at night to escape the sadness and gloom that perpetually hovered over his family life. First appearing in the Newari play Karmaya Bhog in 1962, Phuyal would go on to perform in hundreds of plays and more than 40 films and TV series, including Abiral Bagdachha Indrawati and Tito Satya. Phuyal also authored a collection of plays, Badhyata.
Actor and director Deepak Raj Giri, who worked closely with Phuyal in the teleserial Tito Satya, echoes Adhikari’s sentiments. “He was not a comedian in the strict sense of the word. When I approached him for the role, he seemed uncomfortable at first. It was a self-doubt that haunts most artists, especially good artists. He didn’t have big ambitions but in whatever he did, he always poured in all his passion and heart.”
Phuyal’s last rites were performed at Pashupati Aryaghat on January 4.