Bhakti Rathod Interview
At an age when little girls are playing with their dolls five year old Bhakti was playing actor-actor! "As long as I can remember I was about five or six when I realised that I had an actor in me. But then it happened quite late. When I was 11, I was selected for a play in school and since then I haven't looked back," says the award winning actor Bhakti Rathod in a free- wheeling chat.

 By Jahnavi Pal

Whether it was her teeny meeny role in the iconic TV show Thi or her notable work in plays like 2 IDIOTS, ZERO BANI GAYO HERO, BHARI LAU AANKH MA ZINDAGI , Bhakti was always noticed.

Reminiscing about the day at school when she got selected for her maiden play Bhakti recalls, "When my Hindi teachers came to class to select a girl to play the bahu in the school play I ran to her and tugged at her sari saying I would be the ideal choice as I could cry and do all that was demanded of a bahu! I was selected. It was a street play kind of format and within four days I was also helping them write my lines. I was also partly directing. That was the time I realised I had the acting bug in me.

"My mother too noticed my talent and from then on she ensured I would get the right guidance and exposure. She would take me to Prithvi theatre to watch others perform at an event called Dhamal. A lot of talent was picked up from here. I also enrolled for workshops and then my mum got in touch with casting directors who cast me for small acting jobs. And that's how my journey began." " Kyunki got me a lot many other shows. And soon I did loads of serials and soon plays followed. My entry in the theatre world was very interesting.

"I was 17 when I had just shed off my baby fat and I got signed to play the lead in a Gujarati film. After the film I started getting offers for a lot of work. At that time there was a show called Sensex on ETV Gujarati for which I was called and I started shooting for it. It so happened that in the adjoining set Homi Wadia was shooting for another show. We happened to meet one night for a party and got talking. We hit off instantly and became good friends. Meanwhile I was offered a Hindi play by Adakaar group which was an old group that was being revived. They cast me for it and we started rehearsals.

"Homibhai heard of this and called me to inquire if I had ever done theatre before. When I said I hadn't, he advised me to not do any play until I was groomed as a theatre artiste. I was very offended and argued that I was a good actor and that I could do anything. He told me he wanted me to do some ‘net practice' before doing any play. He said he was doing a Gujarati play with Amee Trivedi and felt there was a good role for me in it. It was an antagonist's role and I made my choice. I left the Hindi play with a heavy heart and entered the world of Gujarati theatre. The play was LAJJA TANE MARA SAM. I am so glad I took that decision as theatre has its own discipline and rules which I was taught during this play. I would have looked a fool on stage without this training."

Having taken the risk to play an antagonist in her maiden play Bhakti says she never ever worried about being typecast as she had grown up watching actors like Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil. "I am of the belief that one should have the conviction to play any role. I was exposed to films by Shyam Benegal where I saw actors perform all kinds of roles." Bhakti has also tried her hand at writing and she says she made the most of the recent lockdown when she worked on a script.

"I have already written two plays, MR AND MISS BAROT and SASU VAHU NI 20-20. My husband (director Dhiraj Palshetkar) encourages me as he feels I can be a good writer as well. He has coaxed me into writing plays. I have written SAASU VAHU NI 20-20 whilst I was waiting for my to-be-husband in a café. And I wrote this play within three hours ! I am currently developing a concept for another platform "

After having done so many plays Bhakti says she still thinks it was 2 IDIOTS that she considers a milestone in her career. "I had even won a few awards before this and had done a play with Sanjay Goradia immediately after LAJJA TANE MARA SAM. But until then I felt I was like a child who was protected by all these stalwarts. I needed to get out of this comfort zone if I had to grow. It was then that I got a call from Kamlesh Oza who said he was sending me a bound script for a play that he was offering me. It was rare to receive a bound script for a Gujarati play. And I was excited. Meanwhile I met Manhar Gadhia who slowly became my godfather. He subtly started moulding me in the ethics of theatre for which I am ever so grateful. He taught me what to do and what to avoid. He made me read a lot which helped me evolve as an actor. I now read the script sent by Kamlesh Oza. I had mixed feelings about it. Though it was a good script I wasn't sure if it would work. But I decided to take the risk. The first thing I did was to call up Sanjay Goradia and told him I would be moving out and he gave me his blessings. I realised I had a flair for comedy. Until then I was scared of this genre as its very difficult. The play was a hit and it was a turning point for me."

Continuing to talk about a few other plays where she challenged herself the actor shares, "I make sure I challenge myself for all the roles I do. In the play ZERO BANI GAYO HERO I had to learn sign language. I got a teacher on set to teach me the language. But it so happened that at the end of it the entire play underwent a sea change. All the dialogues that I had rehearsed for were scrapped. We were only two days away from the opening and I had to learn new lines. Now, the teacher too had left . But since I had learnt sign language thoroughly by then I could do it. Yet another challenge came when I did BHARI LO AANKH MA ZINDAGI where I play a blind girl. I started doing a gesture with my eyes which though my director felt would not be seen by people in the last row I was confident I could pull it off. But doing this gave me acute cervical pain and I would suffer from headaches for hours after the play. But audience reaction was so overwhelming that it was worth it. Coming to my role in the play BA MARI MOTHER INDIA where I play a 90 year old. I created the look I would have for this play and even friends didn't recognise me when I stepped on stage."

Coming to the Gujarati theatre scenario in recent times Bhakti opines, " Whilst I was studying Gujarati theatre I came across its origin and the journey thus. It is one of the oldest forms of theatre and the first play LAKSHMI made by Dalpatram. It has survived so many decades since then. We have had people like Pravin Joshi, Kanti Madia giving us some of the finest plays. Unfortunately things deteriorated in the past decade or so. In fact until then people from Marathi theatre would seek permission to translate our plays. I think however talented a person also goes through a decade of lows. This is theatre and it is also going through a wrong time. Opportunists are found everywhere and one finds them here too. But I am of the belief that things will look up."

Bhakti has tasted success on all platforms and when asked to choose her favourite she says, "It is very tricky to pick any one. When I am doing TV I miss the live audience response and the adrenalin rush you get when you are waiting in the wings before your entry on stage. When I am doing theatre I miss shooting and when I am doing a web series I miss doing a film."

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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