23 Feb Alumni Spotlight – Anirudh Vohra ’10
We recently spoke with Anirudh Vohra, ‘10 during a visit he made to Woodstock and Mussoorie for his most recent film project. Anirudh completed his law degree after graduation. However, a passion for acting which started here at Woodstock led him to pursue work in films. Read on to learn more about Anirudh’s journey and his most recent project that brought him back to the hillside.
Tell us a bit about yourself and share what you have been up to after school.
I received a few acceptance letters senior year, but my mind was split between McGill and St John’s, Santa Fe. I decided to take admission in St John’s, given that it teaches the “Great Books Program” using the Socratic Method. It was a place that – at least theoretically – aligned very much with my eclectic tastes and study methods. So, in the fall of 2010, I wound up in sunny Santa Fe.
The very first thing I did when I got there was to join the theatre group: Chrysostomos. The process of entry was to audition, and if you got a role, you’d be given the right to refuse roles in all their productions thereafter. My first show and I were both received quite well!
However, halfway into the semester, I realized I was finding myself at odds with the socio-political backdrop of the US. Gun laws, gay rights, and destroying gender/sexual labels (everyone was on the spectrum, or on the rainbow) – as pertinent as they may be – kept yanking my mind back to India; where poverty and hunger are still the biggest issues. After much thought, I realized where my heart wanted me to be, and left after the first semester itself, much to the Dean’s, and my professors’, displeasure.
When I got back to India, my plan was to take admission in St Stephen’s or Hindu College, University of Delhi. I had the marks for it and only needed to clear the interviews. At my father’s request, I also enrolled for a few law school entrance exams, the main one being the Central Law Admission Test (CLAT). I ranked 127 All-India in the CLAT results, and so I ended up at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, regarded as one of the best law schools in the country.
An Indian government college was a massive culture shock for me. I got kicked out of my first class, on my first day. Some of the new friends I’d made told me to apologize to the professor, and when I entered her office, the first thing she had to say was, “You’re not from an Indian education background, are you?”
Over the next five years, I was heavily invested in the college’s theatre scene. During that time, there were three shows: I played the lead in the second and directed/produced the third. I also took a group of my juniors to an all-India theatre competition, Admit One, hosted in Bangalore. We received a special mention there for direction! Today – in part due to the success of the show I’d directed/produced – our college puts on 3-4 shows every year.
After finishing law school, and obtaining my license to practice law, I worked as a corporate lawyer (specializing in Intellectual Property Rights) for a few years until I met Mr NK Sharma, a renowned theatre director in Delhi. I began training with him. About 4-5 of us (he believes in an open-door policy, so a couple of people were always joining and leaving) worked with him for two years, training primarily in film acting. I left his tutelage in February 2020, feeling I was now ready to move to Mumbai and begin my journey in the Indian film industry. However, we all know what happened at the end of March 2020.
The lockdown delayed my shift, but I was adamant. I moved to Mumbai in October 2020. Since then, I have played the lead in a short film that was showcased under “Trendsetting Films” in the London Lift Off Film Festival, 2022 (December). I’ve been writing projects on my own as well as in collaboration and have been branching out in Mumbai, meeting directors and producers.
You pursued Law and are an advocate. Where did your passion to pursue acting first get ignited?
I always wanted to be on stage and on camera. I remember that, as a child, a friend of mine was having a birthday party which got hijacked by her aunt to audition all of us for a Cello Pen ad. I didn’t get the ad, but the process really had me buzzing.
In Woodstock, I auditioned every year in high school for the school play. It was only in senior year that I got on to the stage, with Dr Laurenson directing us. Mr Ben McKenzie – who used to direct along with Shubhashish Bhutiani – had come back for our (Rokodimus, Class of 2010) graduation. I’d never ended up in Mr McKenzie’s English class, and our only interactions were theatre auditions and callbacks. Now he walked up to me and let me know that every year I auditioned, and every year they loved me, but simply couldn’t fit me into the show. He insisted I never give up on acting and theatre.
Given I was only able to do one show throughout High School, the dream had already started fading. Mr McKenzie’s words still drive me today!
Can you share about your Woodstock experience and how it shaped you as an individual?
Woodstock has to be the most unique experience I’ve had, and it is because it was the only place that allowed me the freedom to explore myself and be myself. At the time I was at Woodstock, we were given a lot of space to speak our minds, make demands (which were mostly rejected) and even fight with our administration. The space for this friction helped me understand who I am, how I communicate, and how – with patience, kindness, gratitude, and sensibility – anything can be achieved, or negotiated into happening.
With this room to grow, was also a long list of great faculty. Mr Montgomery would often visit the wood workshop with me. We made goalposts for an orphanage (where I’d visit to play my instrument for them as well) as well as a go-kart used for the first Ridgewood Go-Kart Cup. The Huggs taught me music in a way that taught me more about life, than the music itself. Mr Prakash opened up the world of literature and journalism, helping me curate a portfolio of my poetry that got me the Jimmy Cassinath Writing Award when I was in 11th grade…I could go on and on.
Woodstock for me was a place where students and teachers from all over the world came together, creating a space where all were welcome (if you could take the teasing that is), and we all grew from each other’s experiences. Rokodimus graduated with students from 13 different nations.
This diversity really helped me deal with college life; I was one of the most independent students, not needing the college president’s help, but instead going directly to the admin for any issues I had. And now that I’m in Mumbai – where soft skills like communication and cultural liberty can take you a long way – I’m able to meet people and enter spaces that many find hard to do.
If you were to go back in time, what would you do differently as a student at Woodstock?
The only thing I’d do differently is to have dated someone. I know, it seems like a very farcical thing. But I say this because I did everything else that I wanted. This didn’t really leave me time for much else, and in the long run, it took me much longer to learn how to be vulnerable. Even in school, the lack of vulnerability maybe is what stopped me from dating someone in the first place…either that or me not really believing in having a relationship that wasn’t ride or die (it’s the Bollywood in me).
Other than that, I think I was able to take much more out of Woodstock than most of my friends around me. I had a great GPA. I was a part of the middle school basketball team; in 9th we made our own breakaway team – with Paul Swanson coaching us – and went undefeated in our short season across Mussoorie. I was a good musician; my instrument was the Euphonium. I did every MUN. It started in Woodstock when I was in 8th grade. I was heavily involved in school politics through Student Council and as Managing Editor/Hard News Editor (pg 1, 2, & 3 at that time). I learned how to manage Parker Hall from Atirav Gupta and David Shastry, who were a year senior to me and I would help Mr Crider with CARE activities. I was given the gold pin for trekking in 8th grade and continued to go on a trek every now and then, learning a lot from Mr. Nagarwalla. Again, I can keep going on and on. I had desperately wanted to take Art and French, but my schedule was too full!
So not being in a relationship is really the only thing I would change, I feel it would have helped me grow as a person in certain arenas sooner than I did eventually.
You were recently in Mussoorie and at Woodstock. Can you share a bit about your current project and how it brought you to Mussoorie?
Yes I was! Unlike most, I make ‘end-of-year resolutions’. And last year, my resolution was to shoot something of my own. I have hundreds of ideas that I keep jotting down, so I picked up the one that was engaging me most at that time: a rich, jobless tobacco addict who one day decides tobacco isn’t doing it for him any more, and undertakes a journey to indulge in marijuana or hash (charas here in India). The project isn’t about the drug, where to find it, or anything like that, but about this comical character’s journey: the places he visits, the people he meets, and the experiences he has. It’s actually a simple coming-of-age meets road-trip film. We had planned to shoot in Delhi, Goa, Rishikesh, and Mussoorie. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to shoot in Goa, but we were able to shoot in all our other locations!
I wrote out my story and script in November and floated a pitch deck to my college alumni on the 1st of December. Within two weeks, we received enough love (and money!) to begin shooting around the 18th of December. My childhood friend Madhav Mathur – who’s been a genius with the camera since high school, and has completed his MA in Cinematography from Goldsmiths, UK – is my partner in crime in all of my own projects. This project is now in post, now we have to record our narration, and background music and create a first cut for feedback.
What stumped me the most was that a friend of mine here in Mumbai – a young man named Sidharth Saxena who comes from a family of documentary filmmakers that have won multiple National Awards – was eagerly waiting for me to return, to pick up on a conversation I’d started with him before leaving. He wanted to discuss my next project, and though I’m just starting out and am operating on a very small scale, it was incredibly exhilarating to feel like the ball is finally rolling and there are people who are keen on working with me!
I’d had an idea for a mockumentary: InstaFame: Instant Game. Essentially, I would play a fictional character that wants to get famous (and verified) within 30 days; he would go to all the influencer hotspots, try and meet said influencers, find events to infiltrate, etc. Around this fictional character, we would document very real people; some of whom I’ve already identified, such as someone who has already found some fame on Instagram, and a woman who is dating someone whose life has now become making reels and posts. The idea is to give insight into the frustrations, struggles, and motivations of the Instagram Influencer world; something that only seems to be growing.
We’ve already begun the pre-production for this, and will soon be looking for funding! So, if anyone reading this is interested, call me!
Can you share one piece of advice for current students at Woodstock and young alumni who are pursuing acting?
If you like money, don’t do it. If you like attention and fame, please do not do it. Acting doesn’t require good looks or a ripped body. I know that’s all you see in mainstream cinema today, but people often ignore the journey all the stars have had to endure to get to this point; and it wasn’t their looks or physique, but down-to-earth, honest-to-God, truthful hard work towards improving their craft and understanding of acting.
When I started training in Delhi, I struggled initially as I was constantly told I was acting, and that is NOT what I should be doing. Film acting is all about being truthful, which sounds very easy, and it is; but getting to a point where being truthful and comfortable (you are metaphorically naked, as the camera will pick up the minutest of details) requires dedication and hard work. For me, being vulnerable towards myself and those around me, taking stock of my own toxic habits, and thereafter working on myself, was something I had never done before.
My advice is that only get into it if your ambition goes beyond the material. A lot of acting exercises are also used in therapy for patients; it’s almost a spiritual journey, where your body and your voice are all you have. It can be the most frustrating thing to do, but when you do it well (by your own standards, not anyone else’s) it is also the most liberating experience one can have.
Money and recognition won’t come easily – as I’m learning here in Mumbai – but that applies to most professions. What is unique about being in the film industry as an actor is that you have a lot of time on your hands while you wait for something to happen. So if your motivations don’t go beyond money or fame, and if you’re not ready to put the world aside and dig deep within yourself (exploring, forgiving, accepting and improving the dark, dirty bits we often ignore), I’d suggest avoiding it as a profession, and exploring it as a hobby instead of a career.