Anahita Uberoi Interview
Daughter of theatre veterans Vijaya and Farrokh Mehta, Anahita Uberoi has grown up living and breathing theatre. After training in New York and working on Broadway for a while, she returned to Mumbai, going on to act in several English plays and direct a few. Her new play for Aadyam, AS BEES IN HONEY DROWN (an adaptation of Douglas Carter Beane’s satirical comedy about the pursuit of fame) marks her return to direction after a short gap.

 By Deepa Gahlot

Before the pandemic hit, she had directed GAA RE MAA with Ishitta Arun as producer. She had also been consulting with ticketing platform, where she was exposed to a different view of the theatre business. "I had a very interesting and educative time," she says, "I could observe how the system works, what audiences are buying, how marketing helps, how social media helps. I found it quite fascinating. So when things opened up, I believed nothing should be done for the first year – it was too risky for the producer."

When Aadyam invited applications for 2023, Anahita chose to direct. "Without our realising it, the pandemic took away three years," she says, "Aadyam is a nice initiative, stress free and very supportive. Devika Shahani is producing it. I had read BEES maybe 25 years ago and it had been a big success. I had loved it and was divided between wanting to act in it and direct it. I couldn't quite decide and then years went by. I read it again in 2000, and realized that because of Google it was very easy to find out about someone. Then social media came about, and it is now so easy to put out what you want to about yourself, and who's checking? It got me thinking that this play could be revisited, it could be updated and recontextualised. The story of a young novelist and a dynamic woman charmed me."

Aditya Rawal and Shikha Talsania play the leads, with four other actors doing multiple parts. "It has been a joy working with them, they are a complete delight and the process has been one of great excitement. It is very tough to cast these days, and I have been fortunate to get these six. They have all come from different backgrounds of work, and never worked together, so it made for a nice, happy mix. They are all talented and all crazy, but they are also earnest, disciplined, enthusiastic, hard-working and quick. They have fun, but their attention is also full on. More importantly, they all honour dates. If your heart is in theatre, then whatever it takes, you always pull through. What keeps theatre going here is love."

Why is it that with so much original writing in English, theatre makers still turn to adaptations of western plays? "I have been consistently working with original writing and I am very happy doing Indian plays," she replies, "but this time I had just two weeks, and of all the plays I had looked at, it just so happened that this story shouted at me. I am hoping my next play will be Indian writing, I am just waiting for the funding to come through."

After spending so many years in the theatre, her output has not been too prolific to which she says, "Now that my children have grown up, I am happiest when I am in theatre, but I am not one of those people who has to do a play every single year. I enjoyed every moment of it, but I also got very absorbed in bringing up my children. I loved it and those years will not come back. I did what I wanted to do, but I didn't chase stuff. Now I am charged up again. I think I did more acting than directing, but I don't like to do both together. I enjoy acting so much that I want someone else to tell me what to do on stage, otherwise I might do a half-assed job."

With exposure to both Marathi and English theatre, how did she tilt more towards the latter? "I grew up backstage in Marathi theatre, because I travelled everywhere with my mother, like her little tail. My influences were much more from Marathi theatre than English. I actually wanted to do more Marathi theatre, but by the time I was 18, after school and college, my mother said I could go wherever I wanted and feel free to work with whoever I pleased. She also said that I had studied in a South Mumbai school, so my Marathi wouldn't cut it and I would be thrown off the stage. She said, find who you are...and that stayed with me. I think I am a bit of a hodge-podge and I don't belong to anything. Which is why I am happy to use other languages in my plays. I am happy to cast actors from different language theatres. That sound, that quality they bring from whichever theatre they belong to is so enriching. I am a big mixture, so what I do has also been very mixed culturally. That's who I am."

Even in the clique-ish world Mumbai theatre, Anahita has worked with a wide variety of theatre groups. "I had set up my own production company, but I realized I was not cut out for producing. I like working with other people. I would like to call myself a freelancer. Whichever producer or writer I work with, the pool of actors I choose is very varied. And that is fun. Why just theatre, influences come from art, music, architecture. When I take a cab and the driver is playing music, I never ask them to turn it off. Through the music they listen to, I enter their world. All entertainment, whether you like it or not, is valid. There is a multiple world of creators and audiences."

(Deepa Gahlot is a journalist, columnist, author and curator. Some of her writings are on

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