Versatile actor, Rohini Hattangady hardly needs an introduction. Not only has she been around for three decades establishing her presence in film, theatre and television but she also has received several awards for her achievements. To date, she remains the only Asian recipient to receive the prestigious BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) for her portrayal of Kasturba in Richard Attenborough’s seminal film ‘Gandhi’. An alumnus of the National School of Drama (NSD), Rohini was awarded the Best Actress award and an award for all-round best student when she graduated from the institute. She also has the distinction of being the first woman to act in ‘Yakshagana’, a folk play from Karnataka titled BHISHMA VIJAY directed by Dr. Shivram Karanth and of being the first woman in Asia to act in a classical Japanese Kabuki play IBARAGI under the direction of Professor Shojo Sato, a well-known Japanese director. Moreover she has learnt the Indian classical dance forms of Kathakali and Bharatnatyam for more than eight years under the guidance of Professor Surendra Wadgaonkar. In 1975 she won the ‘Best Actress’ Award at the Maharashtra State Drama Festival, for her performance in ‘CHANGUNA’ a Marathi adaptation of Federico Gracia Lorca’s Spanish classic ‘YERMA’, which was produced by the Marathi theatre group ‘Awishkaar’, in Mumbai. Since then there has been no looking back for her. The following conversation centers on her most recent felicitation by the central Sangeet Natak Akademi for her contribution to the field of drama. Rohini Hattangady received the award, which was declared in 2004 on 26th August 2005 at a formal ceremony in Delhi, presided by the Indian President Abdul Kalam.
When you first heard about the Sangeet Natak Akademi’s decision to honour you with an award for your career as an actor in the theatre, how did you feel? Well, naturally very happy. The Sangeet Natak Akademi award is recognized nationally and it felt particularly nice to receive it because it focuses on my contribution to the field of theatre. Although I have received other awards in the past, this one is significant.
Which particular roles come to your mind that you feel represent the award’s distinct consideration? See, the Sangeet Natak Akademi awards are not restricted to one work alone. It represents the range of work that the artiste in question has done. In any case, if you wish to talk of the memorable parts that I have played in the theatre, a few plays come to mind. There is APARAJITA and MEDEA directed by Jaydev Hattangady. We have toured with both these plays to many places and they have been performed in Hindi as well as Marathi. APARAJITA is originally a Bengali play written by Nitesh Sen. It is a one-character play while MEDEA is a Greek tragedy. I also remember a play that I had done many years back. This was Vijay Tendulkar’s MITRA CHI GOSHT directed by Vinay Apte. Yet another play I recall is HORI based on Premchand’s ‘Godaan’ and which was produced by IPTA.
Do you feel that the honour is well timed or do you think that you could have received it earlier or later for a still charismatic role that you have to play? Now that is a difficult question because I am keen to still play varied roles. But I do think it is well timed. In fact, when I received the award, I realized I was the youngest amongst the other awardees at the ceremony. At least, I was fit and fine to walk up to the stage to receive the award!
Who all do you feel have had a role to play in your success? My parents, my in-laws, my husband and my guru, Ebrahim Alkazi. My father himself was a theatre person who initiated me to do theatre seriously and my mother pampered me. My in-laws were particularly supportive of my work and did not bind me to household duties although I was the eldest daughter-in-law in the family. I was at the National School of Drama (NSD) from 1971 to 74’. I learnt a lot there. I specialized in acting while my husband whom I met there specialized in direction.
Now that you have received this particular award, what are your future plans? I may do a Marathi and an English film. At present, both these projects are in a negotiable stage. Plans for the English film have got postponed because of the recent bomb blast tragedy in London. My Marathi tele-serial is going strong despite 1000 episodes so I am busy with that too. Then there is the Hindi play KOHARA that I am currently acting in.
Is there any director whom you would like to work with and haven’t as yet? I have too many names. You know I haven’t worked with Vijaya Mehta and Sai Paranjpe. So if an opportunity presents itself, I’d like to work with them. Recently, I saw Kavalam Narayana Panikkar’s play KARNABHARAM at the Nehru centre festival and I thought I want to work with him. I quite liked the style that he had made use of in presenting a Sanskrit play. There is Ratan Thiyyam, my NSD classmate too whom I would like to work with. Again, Jayadev Hattangady, my husband says he has something up his sleeve…
Are there any dream roles to be done or you feel you are content with what you have done and are doing currently? Of course there are. There always will be. I would like to experiment with different styles. In MEDEA, we have made attempts to stylize the production but it’s been a few years now. I think one role I’d like to play sometime is Lady Macbeth’s. I haven’t done any Shakespearean play as yet, so I’d like to sometime.