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Interview with Mita Vashisht

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“My nude scene in Siddheshwari was subtler than the needlessly titillating shots of the female anatomy Hindi films were obsessed with back then”

MITA VASHISHT tells JYOTHI VENKATESH

In this exclusive and incisive telephonic interview for bollyy.com and Mayapuri, versatile actor Mita Vashisht who plays a titular role in Kasaai slated for release this Friday on ShemarooMe Box Office, talks about her growth as an actor in Hindi films over the last 33 years.

Mita Vashisht

How did you work on your character of Gulabi in Kasaai?

I began discovering the character through her incisive dialogues, essentially mastering the rustic speech, and then, after finishing the script, I tried to internalize the immense grief Gulabi goes through due to the events that take place right in the beginning of the film. I wanted to depict nuances in her pain, not just make her a stereotypical teary eyed mess. This is one of my favorite performances due to the elegant power in it.

Isn’t it true that very rarely are character artistes given central roles with so much scope to shine?

To be honest, I’ve only been limited to character roles in commercial cinema but have led the cast for stalwarts such as Govind Nihalani, Mani Kaul and other such legends. I was fascinated by my character Gulabi’s inner strength, her refusing to bow down no matter what.

Do you agree that there are shades of Damini in the story?

Not really, although I haven’t seen Damini but as far as I know, Damini was told through the perspective of a righteous housewife while this film is about the battle of a wronged mother more than anything else.

To what extent did director Gajendra S. Shrotriya help you in enhancing your performance?

The best thing Gajendraji could do was to leave me alone to explore my character, without interfering in my process. He understood that the script by itself would speak to me and eventually mould my performance. I remember a particular funny incident during a scene where I was mourning the loss of my son. He kept on rolling the camera, never calling cut despite having canned the shot. When I was vexed and asked him about the same, he said he was so blown away by what I did that he didn’t feel like turning off the camera. The shoot was a little tough since we had to wrap up in 13 days but that’s where Gajendra ji’s cooperation really helped.

Would you say ShemarooMe Box Office OTT has come to the rescue of Kasaai?

Definitely! The birth of digital streaming has completely changed the game. ShemarooMe Box Office is truly the most ideal place for our film to release, as we finally are able to tap an audience that looks forward to powerful stories. Take even a film like Bhonsle, which found steam in the web space, but may have found difficulty releasing theatrically. So OTT is a huge revolution, in my opinion.

Why don’t we see you more frequently on screen?

I don’t know. Life is strange that way. Bhanu Athaiya, the supremely talented Oscar winning costume designer passed away recently and I regret not having met her more frequently. She was responsible for a lot of my costumes. She had also made some fantastic costumes for Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi when I was meant to do Rekha’s role, but sadly as luck would have it I didn’t end up doing the film although I have fond memories of those fantastic costumes.

I recently dug out old photographs of my looks and they were quite ahead of that time, to be honest even today I feel Hindi films are too old fashioned for me. I’m still not impressed by films like Thappad. Also the industry really doesn’t encourage relatively older actors like me to flourish, as after 30 they stop considering female artists for a lot of roles. I don’t think the Hindi film industry is really inventive, especially as good roles are few or far between.

Why did you fail to make it commercially as far as your career is concerned?

I often wonder about this dilemma. I am aware I had the glamour as well as the acting chops but somehow there weren’t well articulated roles for me. On the other hand, the heroines I had debuted with back then aren’t active on the scene now while I’m still going strong in this industry, doing brilliant films like Kasaai.

Do you think that not having any commercial Godfather may have hampered your career?

Commercial or otherwise, I didn’t have any kind of Godfather, period! I was fortunate that my talent led me to work with some great filmmakers but ultimately the industry is very backward in some ways. Even Sridevi wasn’t accepted with the same fervor during her comeback with films like English Vinglish and Mom. In the end I think it’s also got to do with destiny, maybe something bigger is in store for me in the future.

You are perhaps one of the few actresses who has tackled a lot of brave roles and also worked in big ticket commercial cinema!

Yes, I do admit I have tried my hands in all spectrums. If I have to pinpoint one big experiment, I feel a film like Oops was a very fresh movie, and if you take my role, it was quite path breaking. Unfortunately the film was sold as a ‘sex heavy flick’ which actually wasn’t the truth and that ultimately led to its failure, although people did applaud my work in it.

How long have you been in this industry?

It was 1987 when I did Vaar Vaar Vaari for Kumar Shahani, followed by Siddheshwari, way back in 1988. It is exactly 33 years since I’ve been bitten by the acting bug.

How would you analyze your growth as an actor in these years?

One grows holistically and not just because of film and work, as I feel that the lack of work has also contributed to my growth. Both success and failure teach you a lot to the point where the process is more important than the outcome. There was a time when my role being edited out used to bother me a lot but I am not perturbed by these issues any more.

One glance at my younger pictures and it was evident I was the typical wide eyed girl with so many dreams, and as time passed, I got more sublime and mature and those eyes began to see reality. 33 years of a career for me is not about the quantity of films, it’s the special moments I’ve lived in between those that matter.

Would you agree with me when I say that as an actress, you haven’t been given your due?

The film industry isn’t an environment as enlightened as it should have been, as it all depends on the gaze of the maker and how your talent is utilized. Only someone highly aware could find out the difference between the actual potential and sub standard caliber.

Have you stifled your desire to dabble in direction?

I wouldn’t put it that way. In fact I wanted to helm a film way back when I was 33 and had even submitted a script to NFDC but some people had objected to me wanting to make a film at such a young age. That was again an opportunity gone, someone as excellent as Om Puri had agreed to be a part of the project. I was quite baffled back then that my age was used as the barometer for my capability to direct my film. I believe all one can do is give their best to chase their passion.

Which are the five films closest to your heart?

Taal, Ghulam, Dil Se, Drohkaal and Kasba.

You had done a nude scene very early in your career, what made you accept those scenes?

I believe an actor’s craft is a sacred craft, and all those nude scenes were done artistically and aesthetically with maestros like Mani Kaul who were magicians.

You’ve never been seen as a media savvy celebrity, what is the reason behind that?

Media savvy today means just brewing controversies to be in the news, but I have always been a no nonsense communicator. There was a whole fuss that was created during Siddheshwari for my nude scene. People try to contort a narrative that I was misled into doing that sequence but I was clear headed even at that age, owning up to my art and my craft. My nude scene was still subtler than the needlessly titillating shots of the female anatomy that Hindi films were obsessed with back then.

What are your upcoming projects?

I am a part of the second seasons of both web series Criminal Justice and Your Honor and will also be shooting for two feature films next year, although I can’t reveal the names so soon.

In what way do you feel that the film industry has changed in the last three decades?

I feel technology has become an indispensable part of the filmmaking process and the way we tell stories has drastically changed. One big change post Ghulam is that stars have begun to realize the importance of ensemble casts.

What has also really changed is that successful films are not only dependent on superstars but also on the presence of great actors! The fact that commercial cinema can co exist with so called off beat films is also a boon. Technology has brought us platforms such as ShemarooMe Box Office which enable films like Kasaai to find an audience.