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Geetanjali Kulkarni’s journey to the stage

Geetanjali Kulkarni  

At a coffee shop in the heart of the showbiz district of Mumbai, a young man dives at Geetanjali Kulkarni’s feet, saying how big a fan he is of her work. Amused and embarrassed, she waits till he leaves and says, “This doesn’t happen all the time!”

Over the last two decades or so, Geetanjali’s plays have won her accolades, and her films — whether it was Court or the more recent Photograph — have got her talent noticed. Although, when she went to the National School of Drama (NSD), all she wanted to do is the kind of Marathi commercial plays she had grown up watching.

“I grew up in IIT, Powai (a suburb in east Mumbai), my mother used to work there. Our colony was full of Maharashtrians, every Ganpati festival we used to do skits and dance. Then I went to Ruia College, where the drama society was very active. I won a whole lot of mono-acting competitions. As a child, I used to love going to the theatre. A major impact on my life was also TV — Doordarshan on which I watched a lot of art films. I was not a very good student, and by the time I was in the tenth standard I wanted to do something different. Acting came naturally to me. I went to NSD because I didn’t want to study, I thought acting is just laughing and crying. I had no idea how much I would have to study.”

She calls her years at the NSD a rebirth. “I became a different person altogether. The teachers and the way the subjects were taughtmade a big impact. Even when you are just walking down a corridor, a teacher would say, wear the dupatta this way, and walk like a queen. The classmates you stay with for three years come from all over the country. I may not have got the nuskha (formula) to become a good actor, but I learnt a way of living. That was more important. I didn’t realise it then, but 20 years later, it is still with me.”

She also met Atul Kulkarni at NSD, her senior at the institute, and later her husband. “He was eight years older than me and an experienced actor. Everybody seemed to be in awe of him; his talent and personality. Strangely, we have never worked together. Now I am not scared of acting opposite him, but it never happened.”

On her return to Mumbai, Geetanjali started doing theatre, but working with playwright-director Paresh Mokashi was an eye-opener. “I think, Paresh formed a perception of acting that I could relate to. Besides, he was a loving person. Directors generally have a very feudal kind of attitude, back then it was worse. The combination of NSD and Marathi theatre augured well for me.”

From the money she got from doing a TV serial, she produced the play ‘Ek Rikami Baaju’ (An Empty Side), on breast cancer. “I realised I need to be part of a process. On that play, I worked as a driver, backstage worker, producer, actor. I understood why I was doing theatre.”

After doing popular plays like ‘S*x, Morality And Censorship’ with Sunil Shanbag, ‘Piya Behroopiya’ with Atul Kumar, ‘Haath Ka Aaya Shoonya’ with Manav Kaul and ‘Gajab Kahani’ with Mohit Takalkar, Geetanjali realised she was most comfortable in an ensemble. “I am fond of rehearsals, of process, I don’t feel bored of doing 200-300 shows. The shows of ‘Piya Behroopiya’ I did seven years ago and what I am doing now, I find a big difference in myself.”

Her days at NSD led her to the other big project of her life — Quality Education Support Trust (QUEST) and Goshtarang. “I feel what I have got, I must share with others. Most people don’t get such education or training or go to such institutions,” she says. “Atul and I met Nilesh, who was into education and working with an organisation caalled Gram Mangal. We started a study group in Thane, where people from different walks of life discussed educated-related issues. When Nilesh wanted to leave Gram Mangal and start something on his own, Quest was born, with its lovely space in Wada in rural Maharashtra.”

After three years, they picked stories which Chinmay Kelkar directed and performed in villages. They were well received. Then they got a little funding to launch Goshtrang.

“We started a fellowship programme and worked with local actors to perform plays for children. Some unbelievable work has come out of it. We are preparing an audience for the future. We are trying to build on this fellowship programme, there are always challenges, mostly to do with funding.”

Geetanjali has directed plays for Goshtarang, is planning to direct a commercial play, and continues to do a few films that excite her. “What else does a person need? I love the work I do and with people who are on the same wavelength. How many people have that privilege? I have earned it,” she says.

The writer is a critic and columnist


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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 12:30:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/geetanjali-kulkarnis-journey-to-the-stage/article27546777.ece

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