Piyush Mishra: A Multi-Talented Rebel

Piyush Mishra: A Multi-Talented Rebel

When we listen to the words and the composition of ‘Aarambh Hai Prachand’, we can sense the resistance for the status quo in it. Piyush Mishra, the composer and lyricist of the song, says he doesn’t know how he composed these kinds of rebellious songs. It came from somewhere. Even he wants to know. He believes in reincarnation and says something he left in his previous life which is driving him to do all these creative works he is doing in this life. 

Early Childhood

Piyush Mishra was born on 13th January 1963, in a middle-class Brahmin family in Gwalior. His childhood name was Priyakant Sharma. His family moved into his auntie’s, his dad's oldest sister Taradevi Mishra, home, and since she had no kids herself, she treated Priyakant as her own son. Not only that, she became a dominant matriarch of the family.       

She played an influential role in shaping Priyakant’s early childhood personality. Given her controlling and authoritative manners, Priyankant developed a rebellious attitude in response to her. He also became extremely introverted. He isolated himself from his family and friends, and instead, found solace in different art forms. He flourished at them as well. In 7th standard, he had made his first painting. In 8th standard, he had written his first poem and learned harmonium. In 10th standard, he had made his first sculpture. 

First Stint With Acting           

A young, introverted Piyush Mishra had no idea what he wanted to do in life, till class 8th. However, it soon changed when his school teachers asked him to act in a play based on Arabian Nights, given how much he liked and read Hindi literature. 

Piyush soon discovered a mesmerizing magic. All his life so far, he had been a quiet and introverted kid, struggling to make friends and connect with his own family. But here, as a character in a play, he found a comforting delight in expressing himself to the audience. He felt he could reach out and form a bond with them, even if it was just a temporary one. He talked to the people and they seemed to listen to him. It was here he decided, he would pursue theatre as a career. 

He actively participated in plays at places like Kala Mandir, and Rangshri Little Ballet Troupe, Gwalior, an NGO working to promote art forms, recognised his talent. However, despite the praises and recognition for his acting skills, his family insisted he focus on his studies. 

When he declared his irrevocable decision to become an actor, in class 11th, his family was petrified. They wanted him to pursue a mainstream career, get a job and settle down. But in response to their aggressive dissent, Piyush cut himself up in different places. Such was his maddening love for acting. 

NSD and Life in Delhi

In 1983, Piyush Mishra got selected in NSD. His father was pleasantly surprised about this news. He had assumed that his son would not be able to pass the entrance exam and Piyush should simply focus on his academics. But when the happy news came in, his father was delighted and immensely proud. After all, NSD commanded a certain respect and prestige. (However, even this couldn’t mend the dysfunctional relationship with his father. Piyush Mishra always felt alienated from his own family. He never talked to his father until he was on his death bed, in 1997. He always addressed him as “Sir”.)

While at NSD, he got an opportunity to make his first music score for an understudy play, ‘Mashreeki Hoor’.  In his second year at NSD,      German theatre director Fritz Bennewitz guided Piyush Mishra in the lead role of Hamlet.       

In his more than twenty years in Delhi, Piyush Mishra went through a lot of ups and downs in his personal life. But he also created some of his significant works in this phase. For one, Piyush Mishra, along with his friend N.K. Sharma, formed a theatre group called ‘Act 1’, three years after passing out from NSD. N.K  Sharma introduced leftist and socialist ideology in the life of Piyush Mishra, which, according to him, gave him the discipline and motivation for work.  

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In this period of time, he wrote many revolutionary songs and plays. Piyush Mishra, N.K Sharma, Shoojit Sircar, Imtiaz Ali, Manoj Bajpayee, and Ashish Vidhyarthi all went to Punjab to do street plays. They wanted to promote religious harmony at a time when Punjab was in its most volatile phase of religious fundamentalism. 

In 1994, Piyush Mishra wrote one of the classic plays in the theatre circle: Gagan Damana Bajyo. This was based on the life of Bhagat Singh For this play, he researched and read about Bhagat Singh a lot. He says that he could literally visualize Bhagat Singh while writing this play. Later on, he also wrote dialogues for the film The Legend of Bhagat Singh directed by Rajkumar Santoshi who was impressed by Piyush Mishra’s play. 

Piyush Mishra: A Multi-Talented Rebel

Piyush Mishra has written and directed the popular play Gagan Damama Bajyo. (Photo: QuestionAssociaties/Facebook)

In 1996, he joined Asmita Theater Group, and played out his well-known exclusive shows An Evening with Piyush Mishra. He composed the verses for Asmita's well-known plays. Piyush is additionally known for his role exhibition in Swadesh Deepak's play, Court Martial, as Suraj Singh, first under theatre director Ranjeet Kapoor in 1991, and later under the bearing of Arvind Gaur in 1996.

By then, at that point, he had secured himself as a theater chief and directed the play Comedy of Terror for Shriram Center Repertory Company. In the meantime, he also acted in television series like Bharat Ek Khoj, directed by Shayam Benegal, and Rajdhani directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia. 

Piyush, during this phase, struggled with alcoholism. He is very open about how this was the worst phase in his life. He worked the whole day in the theatre and his day ended with alcohol at night. In this bad phase of life, his wife, Priya Narayan, gave him all the moral and financial support he needed. He still regrets that he should have behaved more decently with his wife back then.

Shift to Mumbai and Break in the Film Industry

When Piyush moved to Mumbai with his whole family in November 2002, he was afraid that he would get work there or not. As he was a popular figure in the Delhi theatre circle when he came to Mumbai, he was loaded with work. He got his first breakthrough as an actor in Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se in a CBI officer’s role.

Piyush Mishra: A Multi-Talented Rebel

Piyush Mishra with Shahrukh Khan in Dil Se.

 After Dil Se he met Anurag Kashyap, who asked him to write the songs of his then-upcoming film  Black Friday. He wrote all the songs of the film and one song of the film ‘Are Ruk Ja Re Bandeh’, is still a classic. Vishal Bharadwaj gave him a role in the first film of his Shakespeare Trilogy Maqbool.

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Piyush Mishra became a proper screenwriter when he penned the dialogues for Rajkumar Santoshi's 2001 film The Legend of Bhagat Singh, which was motivated, to some extent, by Mishra's widely praised play on Bhagat Singh, Gagan Damama Bajyo. It won him the Zee Cine Award for Best Dialogues in 2003. He wrote lyrics for the films like Dil Par Mat Le Yaar in 2002,  Aja Nachle in 2007, and  Tashan in 2008. His performance as Huffy Bhai in  Jhoom Barabar Jhoom 2007 was appreciated. He wrote his own dialogues and delivered them in a poetic style.

In 2009, Anurag Kashyap’s  Gulaal established Piyush Mishra as a force to reckon with in the industry. He had written and composed all the songs of the film. The soundtrack became an instant hit among the youth.                                           

The making of Gulaal’s soundtrack is itself a story. One day, Anurag Kashyap and Piyush Mishra were drinking together and planning about the film. A local music group came there to show their compositions for the film. Anurag, the director of the film, didn't like any of the songs. Then Piyush sang a song on the harmonium of that group. It was ‘Yaara Maula’, which was later included in the album. Anurag insisted Piyush Mishra compose the soundtrack of the film. 


Piyush Mishra: A Multi-Talented Rebel

Piyush Mishra in Gulaal   

In 2012, his another memorable work, Gangs of Wasseypur (I & II), was released. He narrated and acted as well as composed a classic song,    ‘Ik Bagal Me’, for the film. His performance in the film as  Nasir was highly appreciated. The film gained cult status immediately after its release.

Piyush Mishra: A Multi-Talented Rebel

Piyush Mishra (left) as  Nasir Ahmad in Gangs of Wasseypur.

In 2012, he also performed his classic songs ‘Husna’ and ‘Ghar’ in the second season of MTV Coke Studio. He later worked on many light-hearted comic roles also. Like the remake of Basu Chaterjee’s 1983 classic ‘Shaukeens’ released in 2014 The Shaukeens. His performance in the film was appreciated. He continued to act in films like Happy Bhag Jayegi and Pink, which again gave him a lot of appreciation.

Piyush Mishra: A Multi-Talented Rebel

Piyush Mishra performing ‘Husna’ in Coke Studio

Piyush Mishra: A Multi-Talented Rebel

Piyush Mishra in Pink.

Nowadays, he wants to go back to where he started from: theatre. His saturation from films drives him back to the theatre and live performance. He made his own theatre group ‘Tamboo’, which is again performing his classic play Gagan Damama Bajyo after 25 years. He also formed his own band called ‘Ballimaaraan’ and performed in different cities.

Piyush Mishra: A Multi-Talented Rebel

Piyush Mishra performing live for his band ‘Ballimaaran’.

Piyush Mishra shows us how a person can (and should try to) devote his entire existence to art and his passion. He personifies that inspiring courage and determination to pursue what we truly want to do in life.      

Piyush Mishra Talking about ‘Gagan Damama Bajyo’ and Bhagat Singh. 

Author Biographical Note: The author is pursuing graduation in Physics (Hons) from Ramjas College, University of Delhi, India.  He is working for Explore Screen: The Cognitive Dialogue as an intern. 

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