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Mita Vashisht on her solo performance with 'Lal Ded'

Mita Vashisht

Mita Vashisht   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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The film, television and theatre artist on why she keeps returning to perform the play about the Kashmiri mystic-poet

She is busy with films, television and web series, yet Mita Vashisht keeps returning to the solo performance, Lal Ded, which is closest to her heart.

She has performed this play about the Kashmiri mystic-poet for 15 years, finding in her the core of Kashmiriyat. She is preparing to do a nine-show run soon, and it has got her spirit churning once again.

“Things have changed a little,” she says, “now I have started becoming very interactive with the audience. Like, I get the audience to experience with me some of the Kashmiri Vakhs (Lad Ded’s poems) and the flavour of the language. I make them recite with me… we have a bit of fun before the performance starts. It’s almost like a purvaranga (preliminary) which we used to do earlier in Sanskrit theatre. You actually settle the audience into the mood of what the play can be.”

This time, she plans to follow the shows with workshops, in which she will share the process of the play, which took almost three years.

“I want my audience to understand how the terrain and geography inform the music and performance. What I am also going to do at the end of the workshops, after people have understood form, structure, scale, aesthetics and geography, is to tell them, now find one sentence you would really like to articulate with, but have not done it so far. Then write a four-line poem. I want to do this in many cities, especially with young people, because I want to see what introspective space they have within them. Is there something about them that is their own, and not just influenced by social media. It might be interesting to pick the best poems and publish them.”

Lad Ded, Mita says, it’s an introspective piece. “People relate to it, because she cuts through all the isms of religion, form and time, and goes far beyond that. So she is, in a way, the pure self, which every person has inside them, till they are indoctrinated into a religion or sect.

“So my effort at all times, is to keep that purity, because, it is easy to stay with the structure and lose the soul. You have to stay in the fixed form, yet each time, you have to rise above the form. The angik (body) and vachik (voice) are usually at par, but changes have also to be made according to the space. In theatre, you need an image that will stay. Theatre is meant to create images that are out of the ordinary, which make you question the premise of what you are seeing. That is important to me, and it can’t be arbitrary, it has to be within the construct of the aesthetic.”

Mita has acted in plays like August Osage County, Jug Jug Jiyo, Agnipankh and Aarohi, travelling extensively with them. However, she finds that some of the stage directors she has worked with, have a chalta hai attitude to the aesthetics of theatre. “I think there should be excellence in every department. The director says, the story is strong enough, nobody is going to notice if the lights or sets are not so; why would you not take care of these aspects of a performance? The Natya Sastra talks about aharya (decorative elements) too along with angik and vachik.

“People are not happy with you, give them something they have not imagined; it threatens them, their sense of power. Therefore they want to find ways of controlling or diminishing it. I read that Meryl Streep had a really bad time in drama school, because there would be directors who harassed her — they understood that a lot of what she was doing, they could not take credit for. I find it distressing to deal with issues of ego and power play. In fact what I love about doing theatre when I am the boss, is how much I sublimate my ego. When you are in charge, it is a place of enormous giving and generosity — I personally cannot keep a team together, unless these elements are in place. But many directors like the actor to be subservient and obsequious to them.”

When Mita was selected to study at the National School of Drama, there was a psychology test in which they were asked to visualise which rung of a ladder they see themselves on when they start and where they see themselves three years later. “I put myself on rung two at the beginning, because I had done Masters in Literature, and theatre for a year, and after three years, I put myself on rung three, because it was just the beginning of the journey. I knew that those three years would be, for me, a space to explore what I am capable of. So I attended every class and every workshop, whether it was miniature painting, sculpture, poetry, martial arts, mime, dance — I understood even then, that acting was not just being on stage and saying your lines, it was a way of life. For me the world of acting was a place where every other branch of learning had a space that I could attach myself to, and detach at will. In order to do that, I had to access every aspect of the performer’s art. Between 1984 and 1987, we had the most marvelous minds as teachers, who were legends in their fields. Nibha Joshi, who taught aesthetics, told me in the first year, ‘You have a very fine brain and intellect, but you have to learn to be stupid. You have to bring your other senses into play and not just use the mind.’ It took me three years to reach that stage, when all the research was inside — I could write a thesis on every role I did — but the performance was free of that; it was just about the body.”

Mita believes she would do a lot more theatre, if she were financially stable. “I am also blessed because along with plays, I do films and TV — I am equally proficient in all three. But I love doing theatre, because it allows me to be more complete as a performer than films these days do. It is also much more challenging. It makes me a more rooted person, I feel like there is a reason why I am in this world.”

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 8:36:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/mita-vashisht-on-her-solo-performance-with-lal-ded/article30185621.ece

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