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Updated: November 15, 2011 16:26 IST

For the love of theatre

BHUMIKA K.
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REINVENTING CONSTANTLY Mita: ‘Theatre is the most democratic space for differences to be celebrated' Photo: K. Gopinathan
REINVENTING CONSTANTLY Mita: ‘Theatre is the most democratic space for differences to be celebrated' Photo: K. Gopinathan

Theatre is like a spiritual gym where you fine tune and flex your intellectual muscles, says Mita Vashisht, who never went to a gym otherwise. She tells Bhumika K. she wonders why there's such a big deal made of actors' bodies today

Arising intolerance to a conflicting point of view can be attributed, to a great extent, to the fact that the space for performing arts has diminished, says actor-director Mita Vashisht. “There's no debate, you don't question yourself or values, you don't ruminate…the only group left then, is hooligans,” she says.

A graduate of the National School of Drama (NSD), she's performed her much-acclaimed solo play “Lal Ded” (based on life of medieval Kashmiri mystic Lal Ded) consistently since 2004. Mita believes “theatre keeps me free-flowing and clean”. In Bangalore recently to perform in Lilette Dubey's production of “August: Osage County” brought by Ballantine's, Mita says theatre's been with her right through her career — that saw her weave in films, television, singing — but “maybe unobtrusively”. She's been teaching techniques amalgamated through her theatre experience at some of the country's premier design, film and theatre institutes — NIFT (Delhi), FTII (Pune), NSD (Delhi) and the NID (Ahmedabad). “Theatre is the most democratic space for differences to be celebrated. I love performing live to audience… it's like a spiritual gym where you fine tune and flex your intellectual muscles,” she grins her wide grin.

But, for a lot of television-soap lovers, she may simply be the mean face of Trishna from “Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki”. Or for those whose memory goes way back nostalgically to the Doordarshan days, one may remember that unconventional voice and face from “Space City Sigma”, “Bharat Ek Khoj”, “Swabhimaan”. Wouldn't she have been happier coming into films and TV now, when “unconventional” is the norm? “I was a bit of a clairvoyant… I knew even then, when I started out at 20, that what I really wanted to do will happen much later,” she says. “At the same time, when we came into the field, TV was still at its best. There's certain immortality in the work done then… a lot of people talk about it even now, be it TV or my films like ‘Drohkaal' or ‘Siddheshwari'.”

As an actor, she also has a lot to say about a big issue created of actors “being size zero” today. “I mean, big deal! I used to sail, swim, and ski…we had great bodies, but never made a big deal of it. We never went to a gym. I even did a full-nude scene in ‘Siddheshwari'…”

She's recently made a docu-feature, “She of The Four Names”, on Lal Ded again, for the Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT) — her film directorial debut. “There's a huge difference between doing a play and a film on the same subject. The exploration is very different in theatre, which combines your intuitive, intellectual and emotional self.” She also recently directed a play with young actors for the Short+Sweet Festival. “It's great to move from doing interesting work to reinventing oneself and being offered exciting work with youngsters,” she smiles.

No one can forget Mita as the protagonist in Shubha Mudgal's music video “Mann ke Manjeeré” that told the story of a woman who leaves an abusive marriage, turning truck driver to support her daughter. It turned into a national campaign against domestic violence. Her theatre too has always been linked to a cause. Her artistic forum Mandala, which she set up in 2001, took up a project to work with 30 trafficked minors, using theatre as therapy. She continued to work with these young girls rescued from brothels over four years. “From being hysterical traumatised kids, they grew into women. We taught them not to allow anyone to invade the space of their past. Today some of them are married, have kids, run NGOs, one works in a factory as a stock-taker… that experience gave me an insight into our country at the grassroots level and the kind of issues people face.”

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