Noted theatre person Arundhati Nag is acting in her first Malayalam film, Da Thadiya. She talks about the lasting appeal of theatre
Arundhathi Nag is in the middle of a shot. Yet, she ensures we are comfortable. Soon after the take is okayed, she seeks us out from the small crew of cameramen and leads us on for the scheduled interview, all the while talking about the sweltering weather in Kerala and how comfortable the chatta mundu (her costume for the film)is. Theatre personality and actor Arundhati Nag has the rare ability to make a person feel instantly at ease in her powerful presence.
In Kochi, shooting for Aashiq Abu’s Da Thadiya, Arundhati says the reason behind her infrequent appearances in films is her dislike for the routine mother roles. “Such roles are not even stereotypical. I’d say they are caricatured. They don’t do anything, not even embroidery,” she says, breaking into a laugh. However, the role in Da Thadiya appealed to her. “I play a matriarch, a woman of few words, but who wields great power, and I also liked the idea of a film on a fat person.” Her role as Vidya Balan’s mother in Paa, won her the national award for the Best Supporting Actress.
It was director Ranjit, who after watching her stellar performance in Girish Karnad’s iconic play, Bikhre Bimb, suggested her name to Aashiq Abu. “It is my first Malayalam film and I admire the way Malayalam cinema has regenerated itself. It is an example for the entire country,” she says.
One of the most accomplished theatre personalities in the country, Arundhati has spent the better part of her life on stage, but says she is still perfecting and mastering the art of impersonation. “Aren’t we all acting all the time? The only time when one is not catering to anybody is when one is in the bathroom. There is always something more to do.” She started theatre acting when she was 16 and the journey so far “has been wonderful”, but Arundhati does not describe herself as over-ambitious. “Perhaps that is a discipline only theatre can teach. The fact that even a small role is important,” she says.
Theatre, unlike cinema, is an actor’s medium. The actor responds to the audience and understands instantly when they have received something from his/her performance. To be a good cinema actor, one has to be a yogi, she says. “One has to sustain the intensity from one shot to another and be in that particular emotion for hours, perhaps,” says the actor who is currently doing a Kannada film, Andhar Bahar.
Need to reinvent
Despite the presence of technology that has come to enhance the presentation of a play, Arundhati feels theatre needs to reinvent itself. New kinds of writing should emerge and new writers should be encouraged.
“There are few young playwrights in Kannada,” she says. Television may have given livelihood to several budding actors, but it has also lured many away from the stage. “Once they get picked up by TV, they start believing they are actors,” she says, blaming the industry that wants “stars” and not real actors. A lot of this is due to overt westernisation of sensibilities. Look at something like Koodiyattam, she says. “How did it survive the test of time? It is about mastering, playing the same codified emotions over and over again. Koodiyattam is the dada of it all. But we need to put in more effort to keep a fine art like it alive. Make it into a picture postcard so that there would be takers to learn it.”
Arundhati’s ‘Ranga Shankara’, a theatre space in Bangalore, which she envisioned in memory of her late husband and theatre personality Shankar Nag, is in its eighth year and in a “very beautiful phase” now. “When we started it, the concept of Tuesday Theatre was unheard of. Now we have people asking for performances every day,” she says. It has already conducted over 300 shows and 2,400 performances. It follows ‘a play a day’ format for six days a week. The theatre is gearing up for its yearly festival from October 27 to November 11 where five plays based on Shakespeare will be staged. The theatre would be hosting an art appreciation course, too, during the time.
Every city should have a place for theatre, she feels. “There’s more to life than just money. We built the whole project with the help of donations. Every city must have its own space for theatre that would mould and nourish fine acting,” she says.