Akriti Singh Interview
It's been a decade since Akriti Singh has been on stage and she surely has a lot to be proud of. After having worked with various theatre groups Akriti launched her own group called Storia Senza Storia. Not only does she have an impressive repertoire as theatre actor she has now also turned a film director. Toofan Mail, the film she directed was named the best film at the UK Asian Film Festival. The film based on a true incident is now waiting for a theatrical release.

 By Jahnavi Pal

Akriti is a graduate in architecture but her heart beats for theatre. Born and raised in Lucknow, Akriti came to Mumbai to chase her acting dreams.

She began with TV serials and not finding her niche moved on to the stage. ILHAAM, LAAL PENCIL, BADE MIYA DEEWANE, BAWLA, BALI AUR SHAMBHU, AREY O HENRY, BOL, PHIR SE SHAADI and her latest offering being GHALIB are some of her plays.

"I always wanted to be an actor," she says. " It's just that if you are not born in Mumbai or Delhi it seems very far. I did my graduation in architecture and then moved to Mumbai with my first job and during the weekends did an acting course. Then I quit the job to do serials but my need as an actor was not satisfied so I started doing theatre. I acted in several plays of various theatre groups and now I run my own theatre company."

Sharing her first experience of acting, Akriti says, " There was this play from Salim Arif's group where I was to do a small role. I had never ever even stepped on stage and was shivering with fright. The co-incidence was that this was about a girl who was about to be killed because she had married without her parent's consent. The shivering therefore seemed natural. This was an experience I will never forget."

After having worked with stalwarts like Manav Kaul, Akarsh Khurana, Salim Arif, Imran Rasheed, Akriti decided to launch her own theatre group, Storia Senza Storia. " It is a relatively young company but I can proudly say that in this short time we have done 14 original plays and adapted only one."

Talking of the plays that she feels have helped her evolve as an actor, Akriti says, " I did a play called SHAH KI KANJRI which was written by Amrita Pritam and I did it solo. I was performing all the characters both male and female, in this play. I played the Shah, his wife, his concubine and this was a wonderful experience. This play changed me as an actor. And the play that helped me grow as a writer and director was BOL. This was the first play that I was writing for grown ups, as until now I had written plays only for children. I went deep inside and asked myself what it was that I wanted to write about and I felt that since I felt deeply about language that's what I wanted to write about. This in a way is a landmark play for me."

Throwing light on how she approaches a role Akriti informs, "After reading the script I sit alone with a pen and paper and ask a lot of questions directed at the character. Right from mundane stuff like what colours does she like to what is her favourite food to random questions like where was she born? I keep doing this for a number of days. In asking such questions I get to understand the character very well. I then begin to dig deeper and try to get into the psyche of the character. This helps me as I get to know a lot about how that particular role has to be tackled."

Speaking on her longest running play and longest role she says, " I think it is BOL or BALI AUR SHAMBHU, which are both still running. My longest role too is the one I play in BOL and in GHALIB as I enter the stage when it starts and exit only when it ends. I am on stage throughout the entire duration of these plays."

Coming to her latest play, GHALIB which is very close to her heart, she says, " I am a poetry lover. I read a lot of poetry and in fact also write poetry. I have my own blog where I write poetry. It's my cocaine--I get high on poetry. As far as GHALIB is concerned, what attracted me to it was the challenge in understanding him. There are so many layers to him and it was this difficulty in interpreting his poetry that attracted me. In fact, I started learning Persian as he has written so much in Persian as well and some of it far better than his Urdu verse. One day I aspire to read that. Once you start reading his poetry you know it is the best. There is nothing better than his verse. I must add here that once I started reading his poetry my language improved. My own ways of thinking , my expression improved tremendously."

Explaining how difficult it is to bring in audiences for a niche play like GHALIB she shares, " The first show of GHALIB was in a small studio called Harkat in Aram Nagar in Mumbai. But we were surprised at the turnout and were happy to see so many Ghalib lovers. In fact we had to put extra chairs to accommodate them all. So I think as a creator it's my responsibility to bring such subjects to the audiences. We are gravitating towards inane stuff. All we need is to put in that extra effort. "

She is now planning a new play based on the Robin Hood of India, Sultana Daku which she has started to work on.

Akriti is optimistic that Hindi theatre is going the right way but believes that there should be more and more people ready to take risks. "If we keep falling to the practices that have been happening until now we are not going anywhere. We need boldness in ideas and experimentation."

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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