TABLE FOR TWO Sangeet Natak Akademi award-winner Neeta Mohindra juggles various passions
I n Chanda Mama Dur Ke she is the unwed mother in conversation with her child yet to be born. Being on stage for Neeta Mohindra is a test in “going beyond” what she has done before. This week, she performed the acclaimed solo, Chanda Mama Dur Ke directed by M.K. Raina as part of the Sangeet Natak Akademi festival. Neeta was recognised by the Akademi for her skills as an actor earlier this year.
Coming in for a quick bite to Le Petit, the café at The Lalit, Neeta talks about the juggling act that defines her life — being an actor, a painter and a teacher. If theatre has been her companion for the past 30 years, painting is what she mastered in and fine arts is what she teaches at BBK DAV College, Amritsar.
“In a way, I lead a dual life. My painter friends have not been to my plays, while though theatre people know I paint, they have not seen my works,” she says. If theatre, painting and teaching are not enough, Neeta has also kept herself engaged in television — hosting a show and serials in between — as well as a few Punjabi and a couple of Hindi movies. Serials and films are a window Neeta has consciously decided to keep open in the past few years. “After I did Dil Apna Punjabi I got calls from friends in Australia, Canada and other places. I would tell them that I have been doing theatre for the past 30 years and not even the whole of Amritsar knows about it,” says the Amritsar-based actor.
She orders watermelon juice and opts for Greek salad and whole wheat sandwiches. If her choice of dishes might be a hint at being diet-conscious, Neeta is quick to quell any such notions. Salads and sandwiches easily qualify as her favourite food. “My taste is such. Very rarely do I go to the gym, my solo performances are enough,” she says sipping the refreshing watermelon juice.
Neeta, naturally is not a foodie, nor a great cook. “I am not a dal-roti person at all.” Startling is the story of her strange link with food. “Till I was about six-years-old, I survived only on milk and chapatti with malai cheeni once in a while. Then, I had boils all over my body and the doctor told my parents that it was because I hardly ever had salt. So, I was forced into having subzis,” she recounts.
Being a vegetarian has also posed Neeta quite a few challenges during her tours abroad. She remembers surviving on Bounty chocolates and coming back weighing 10 kgs more. Greek salad and sandwiches are meant to take her through the rehearsals and performance. Her next meal would come after the show. Neeta is in a different orbit during a play. As someone who has been acting since she was under 20 years of age, solo plays are what gave her acting a different direction. And director M.K. Raina played a vital role in helping her explore this facet. The solo performances began with Buhe Barian and now stand at Chanda Mama Dur Ke.
“We did Buhe Barian in 2003 and is still running. We are travelling with the play and it did about six shows in Pakistan. So M.K. and I thought we should do something better as our second play. So from conception onwards Chanda Mama… was different from Buhe Baria. If the first play was linear, Chanda Mama… adapted from Oriana Fallachi's Letter to a Child Never Born, is not and is much more physical. About her solo performances, she says, “This journey is with M.K. Raina” as they talk of a possible third play which will be more abstract.