Uttara Baokar never fussed about food, only good roles

An actor for 40 years, Uttara Baokar knows a fine actor when she sees one. At the ongoing Bharat Rang Mahotsav, actor/dancer Ankur Bahl with his exquisite blend of dance and drama in “Miranda” impressed her. She calls the monologue “brilliant”.

A performance for her should smell of honesty. “If theatre is convincing, it is good theatre. If through a performance the audience is trying to get you and not getting you, then it remains just an experiment,” says the veteran actor.

Decisions stemming from strong beliefs mark her career. Over lunch at Lutyens', the coffee shop at Ramada Plaza, Uttara recalls the choices she made — to stay at the National School of Drama's Repertory Company doing the kind of theatre she believed in, shifting to Pune three decades later and taking a sabbatical of sorts from theatre and quitting television when roles were aplenty.

The actor who brought a touch of realism to her roles has stayed away from stage since “Umrao Jaan”. “I don't want to fall back into the same trap, of not very exciting work.” “Umrao Jaan” is her milestone and masterpiece.

“We worked on the play for six months, actors, designers and scriptwriters; we would get together and create this play. Performance is important, but so is the creative process of travelling to a performance — creating, re-creating and discarding.” If “Umrao Jaan” allowed her to wrestle creatively, she found theatre elsewhere, especially in Mumbai, an exercise in rush.

But was the shift to Pune in the late 1990s worthwhile? “All my colleagues in the repertory company had shifted. People were beginning to work in films and serials. I was the last one to leave and initially I did enjoy the kind of work I did in television,” she says, opting for achari paneer tikka to start her lunch.

“Simple food, nicely made” is her preference, she says approving the silken paneer. “I like experimenting with food, using the same ingredients, but doing it a little differently.” Quite like the gentle tweaking she does to act in different mediums.

If theory and method dominated the learning of drama at NSD, she maintains, television was not about unlearning everything. Instead, she relied on her training to suit the needs of television. “When I did Kora Kagaz with Asha Parekh, it was a learning process. Her ideas were different from mine, but we had ample time to discuss and I could bring in many shades to the negative character. Asha ji told me to play the role like Lalita Pawar, but I told her it would be clichéd as whatever the character did, had a reason to do so. I was able to analyse and make the character convincing.”

Frustrating times

However, she says, “Deterioration began when daily soap was introduced. There was no time for script or story, and too much interference from the channel. Even Jassi (Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi where she played Bebe) was good when it began. I was frustrated. I questioned myself, ‘Do I need this kind of money?' The answer was no and in 2007 I stopped doing serials.”

The main course of kumbh hara pyaz, dal Lutyens', plain rice and naan arrives on the table. Uttara still abides by the lessons the iconic Ebrahim Alkazi gave them at NSD. “He used to say an actor should not fall ill. He has an obligation towards the audience and should take care of his physique. Many people ridiculed his ideas. I accepted those thoughts.”

Having been a student of music since childhood, Uttara kept away from spicy fare. “For me, food has always been secondary. When we went on tour, quite a few complained about food. I never felt that way; it was never my top concern. When we were in Germany and could get only boiled stuff, people made a fuss, but I was fine. We went to England from there and at an Indian restaurant people spent seven pounds on a single meal in 1982,” she says, rounding off the meal with kesar phirni.

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