What’s the good word, asks SUDHA UMASHANKER to the multi-faceted Sabira Merchant during her visit to the city
Diction or etiquette, acting on stage or hosting shows for television, Sabira Merchant has been a trendsetter. And she continues to be sought-after by those keen on putting their best face forward. That explains why the guru of grooming was in the city recently. Taking time off from a workshop titled “Persona” organised by SPAN Events, she spoke on a range of topics — from corporate dressing to image building.
“It all began by accident,” rewinds Sabira with poise. “I started out by doing plays for radio, and then graduated to theatre. People felt my diction and command over the English language was superb.” The ultimate recognition came in the form of the All India Critics Award for Best Actor for her performance in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
And yes, despite having done shows for television (remember her “What’s the Good Word” programme) and radio, she says her passion for theatre is still intact. “Film, television or radio… they are all media. But I love and do theatre best. It’s the most honest thing. Because there are no retakes. Even if you make a mistake, you have to instantly recover from it and remember your lines and cues. You have to hook the audience and draw them into your world. I like that challenge. It gives me a big high.”
Being a people’s person, she sees her etiquette training workshops as an extension of her love for interaction. “That’s because I see the improvement right in front of me. That’s so energising.”
Talk about diction, and Sabira, known for her flawless pronunciation, says, “We should speak the English language well. For many Indians, their command over the written word is phenomenal. But when it comes to spoken English, it’s appalling. But, as you know, it’s possible to take someone like Eliza Doolittle and transform them into a Prof. Higgins. It depends on the person. From my experience, I can say, politicians and beauty queens are fabulous students. Though politicians come with a mindset, they are determined to pick up the threads fast — real fast. And the challenges are huge for them — they travel extensively, address press conferences, etc. As for the beauty pageant contestants, the competition is so much that they are keen to excel. Else, they know they will lag behind in the race.”
Sabira herself learnt a lot by observing people and cultures. “I was in France and Switzerland when I was 16 years old. I used to watch what people wore and make a mental note of what looked good on them. I have since developed my own sense of style. Quiet, elegant, but distinctly stylish, that’s me,” she says, and adds, “My husband is my most honest critic. He can be quite brutal at times. Since I’m always in suits, jackets and skirts, he exclaims, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ when I go for informal styles while dressing up for a hip party. Later of course, he would agree that I needed to let my hair down once in a while.”
Reeling off some tips before getting back to the workshop, Sabira suggests that looking good doesn’t necessarily mean wearing expensive clothes. “Wear what suits you best. Develop a personal sense of style. When you look good and dress well, people look at you differently. When you look good and speak well that’s half the battle won. Use a good under eye cream. The eyes are where a person’s expressions come from.” And what exactly is her word when it comes to dressing? “Underplay,” she says firmly. “Don’t overdo in matters of dressing. You will look much more charming.”