Actor Mita Vashisht reveals that she is on a creative high, exploring aspects of her craft

Amidst the intolerance to various forms of artistic expression that seem to have erupted in our country, Mita Vashisht sounds a note of optimism. Since the narrow way of thinking has peaked, this climate of intolerance will change, she says.

“The government seems to take cognisance of strong, restrictive voices,” Mita notes. The comment is in the context of the ban on the all girl Kashmiri band, Pargaash and demands for similar bans on films and art shows. The actor-director-singer-film maker is in Kochi as a jury member for SCRIPT, the international short film festival.

Herself and happy

Heads turn at Casino Hotel when she walks into the restaurant for breakfast. The actor, a veteran of theatre and cinema, is in a great, enviable place. She throws back her head and laughs, “Yes it is!” and says that is what she loves about what she does. Back after a hiatus of sorts, she is in sync with herself and happy, as opposed to trying to synchronise with the world and roles it tries to impose.

She is an award-winning actor who has acted in notable films such as Sidheshwari by Mani Kaul, Govind Nihalani’s Drishti and Drohkaal and Kumar Shahani’s Kasba. No stranger to Malayalam films, she has acted in Satish Menon’s Bhavam and Priyadarshan’s Snehamanavale. An actor not bound to a single medium, she has traversed various media such as television, cinema and theatre. “Theatre and cinema are two sides of a coin. In theatre you are born and die in an instant whereas celluloid is for eternity.” That said, her first love continues to be theatre, she says she always introduces herself as an actor. She is as hardcore about theatre as it gets.

Talking about her return to theatre, she says, “this return to theatre (after considerable time doing television and films) in a deeper sense was a return to the beloved, to the self.”

Social conscience

Despite that identity, she is other things—director, writer, musician and a teacher to name a few. Somewhere in between all these identities there is the social conscience. During the course of her work with Mandala, her theatre group, she worked with young girls who were victims of human trafficking. “It wasn’t social service. I was just giving these young girls a sense of self through theatre. People asked me if I was doing social work. I wasn’t. There is a social aspect to theatre. It can encompass and reach out to all kinds of needs.” She was responding to a social calling as actor, she realised that “theatre has a phenomenal capacity as a catalyst for creating new bodies and minds.” Mandala is now, more or less, defunct. And she has set up a theatre and film production company, MMV Films.

She is on a creative high, exploring different aspects of her craft and revelling in it. She has finished work on her documentary on the Kashmiri mystic Lal Ded. She has written the script, directed and acted “with my bare back!” in the docu-feature, She of the Four Names, made for the Public Service Broadcasting Trust. She has also done a solo play on the mystic-poetess, called Lal Ded. Both were on different planes experientially, and each equally thrilling as the other.

Mita is all set to perform, as musician, at the ‘One Billion Rising’ concert in Mumbai on February 14. ‘One Billion Rising’ is an event organised to oppose and create awareness about violence against women. “I will recite (rap) and sing a couple of vaakhs (poems) by Lal Ded. Shubha Mudgal and Farhan Akhtar are among the performers,” says a visibly excited Mita, who is also learning Hindustani music. She also teaches at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), National Institute of Design (NID) and her alma mater, National School of Drama (NSD).

Besides her roles in cinemas, she made her mark in television with serials such as Bharat Ek Khoj, Pachpan Khambe Lal Deewarein and Swabhimaan. Her role in Pachapan Khambe Lal Deewarein, for instance, has ‘amazing recall’. “Current television (serials) feeds on itself, serials feed on serials that have been successful before…like a kind of self-eating caterpillar which eats its tail and not leaves and wonders why it is not becoming a butterfly. You need to look outside, at other sources like books, for instance.”

She has been rather selective, lately, when it comes to films too. Among her recent films are Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna (2011) as Frieda Pinto’s mother and Gangoobai (2013) directed by Priya Krishnaswami and produced by NFDC. The right role eludes her in an industry which “seems to write roles for men till they are old and wear wigs. There are roles for women who are in their 20s and 30s. They are not interested in women who are beyond 35. When, in fact, women become multifaceted when they are older and there is a story waiting to be told.” There are very few film makers who talk a language that sends her “blood racing and make me want to drop everything to make that film.”

Reinvention seems to come easily to her. That is because, she says, “Push yourself out of your comfort zone, shed your old skin and grow a new one…that is what is exciting about being an artist.”

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For the love of theatreNovember 15, 2011