CHAT Sangeeta Gala has trained top Bollywood actors in sign language. The Mumbaikar, with hearing impairment , is now building a database of disabled people interested in the industry
“You know what…I am very lucky.”
Sangeeta Gala’s avowal of the wand of Lady Luck in her life can also be a candid statement on the ‘X factor’ that many young disabled in our country need to prove their worth in adult life. It can be their good fortune of being born in an aware family, or say, the opportunity of a good academic institution.
With Sangeeta, who is hearing impaired, it was a permutation of efforts by her parents Maganlal and Shantaben Barot, as well as teachers of two Mumbai schools.
“When I was diagnosed tone deaf at age two, my father didn’t know what it meant,” she recalls. She later joined The Stephen High School for the Deaf and Aphasia in Dadar. “Since there was no Class VIII in it, I thereafter joined the Helen Keller Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Chowpatty. Because of these institutions, I can speak today. Though I didn’t go to college, these places gave me the self-belief to find a calling,” she says .
Sangeeta is known in Bollywood circles for training Nana Patekar in non-verbal communication for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s moving flick Khamoshi . Thereafter, she worked in Bhansali’s Devdas , Black and Sawaariya and trained actors for Mani Ratnam’s Ravaan too. “My last work was for Anurag Basu’s Barfi . I trained Ranbir Kapoor for his role,” she fills in. An accomplished athlete too, she was the first Indian woman to participate in the Deaf Olympics at Los Angeles in 1985.
AS a recipient of the 14th NCPEDP-Shell Helen Keller Award (2012) in the category Role Model Disabled Individual, Sangeeta talks about finding more people like her interested in working in Bollywood and the television industry.
Along with her friend Shailey Sharma — also hearing impaired — she is building a database of such people to train them in non-verbal communication. “It is an initiative of All India Foundation of Deaf Women, of which I am the vice chairman,” says Sangeeta. The duo is working on short films to showcase the talent of the job seekers which will be uploaded on a website.
The turning point of her life was a morning meeting at Nana Patekar’s house for the test for Khamoshi, says Sangeeta. “Recalling others who helped her change the course of her life, she mentions Beroz Vacha, the founder of the Helen Keller Institute. “When I enrolled there, I had perennial cough. Vacha prodded me to take up running to get healthy. I did, the cough left me and I began taking part in marathons. When medals started pouring in, I started enjoying it,” recalls Sangeeta. With regret she adds, “I stood fifth in the Olympics, it somehow crushed my dreams.”
Having made her mark in Bollywood, she must be well settled now. “I am okay, but I still don’t have a house of my own. After Barfi , I don’t have any film in hand.”
Looks like Lady Luck will have to bring out her wand yet again.
SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY