Manasi Prabhakar Joshi Interview
A trained Hindustani classical singer, a trained Kathak dancer, a voice over artiste and a natural actor, Manasi Joshi is a complete package. Straddling both Marathi and Gujarati theatre Manasi has to her credit over 25 plays in her career spanning 13 years.

 By Jahnavi Pal

Besides plays JAADU TERI NAZAR, SANGEET DEVBABHALI, DR ANANDIBAI JOSHI (in Gujarati and Marathi), AMARFAL, HUTO NE HUTI she has also worked in several TV serials and films. The bubbly Manasi in an informal chat talks about her career on stage and lots more.

"When I was a young girl learning different art forms I wasn't aware that I was preparing to be an artiste, "Manasi begins. "Right from my early childhood I was exposed to Hindustani classical music as my father was a music buff and would all the time listen to CDs of the maestros and attend concerts as well. Often he would take me to music concerts and my interest in music peaked. Though I loved sports too and took part in a lot of sporting events my love for arts overtook everything else."

She soon realized that she could sing well. "When I was in class six my friends would insist on me singing their favourite songs and I got selected for my school choirs too. "Manasi soon began her training in classical music. She says singing was an integral part of her growing up years and she started to appear for music exams too. At the same time I was slowly getting attracted to the world of acting. My initial exposure to stage was by watching plays during Ganesh puja and watching rehearsals of plays in school." And Manasi had chosen her path. She wanted to become an actor. When in college she took part in one-act plays and it was at one such performance that she got noticed and was offered her first commercial play.

"They were looking for actor-singers for a musical called SANGEET LAGNAKALLOL. It was a period drama being directed by the very talented Paresh Mokashi who later made his directorial debut with HARISHCHANDRACHI FACTORY. The play set in early 1900s was about a father in search for a groom for his very ordinary-looking daughter who had a mellifluous voice. I played Thaki, the lead. The play was a success as it had all the biggies of Marathi stage and audiences came to see all the great actors. Till date I am very proud of this play as it set the bar very high for me. "

Manasi now began to do experimental plays as well. "I realized that one should be aware of every genre of plays. I also understood that I should not limit myself to only Marathi stage. An actor should explore all angles. Hence I started doing Gujarati theatre as well. In addition I had also realized that one should experiment with all aspects related to acting so I began to do voice-overs and dubbing as well. This helped me hone my craft."

By now Manasi had established herself on Marathi stage and had a good body of work to her credit. But it was her powerful performance in DR ANANDIBAI JOSHI and DEVBABHALI that she considers the turning point in her life. "Anandibai was my first solo play. It is an actor's dream role. When Manoj Shah offered me the role I was ecstatic. When I started reading about Anandibai I was blown away by her personality. Here was a woman who worked selflessly and this left a deep impression on me as an individual. In fact Anandibai will forever remain etched in my psyche. I had never had the chance to woo audiences through a solo performance. It was a huge challenge. Moreover in the 75-minute duration of the play there were no entry or exits, there were no props nor a set to fall back on, needed me to be very energetic throughout and I was to hold audience attention by enacting a 40-page script! I cannot take credit for the play alone as the script was very powerful. This play will always remain close to me heart as after the play viewers would come backstage and compliment me on my performance saying not once were they distracted!"

Talking of her other treasured play, SANGEET DEVBABHALI Manasi says, "It was a heart-wrenching tale of two marginalized women Avali and Lakhubai where I play Lakhubai. Initially we were unsure if this play would be liked by audiences. But it left viewers in tears and some even told me that it left them in a meditative state. For me as an artiste this play created magical moments."

As Manasi has worked both in Marathi and Gujarati plays her views on the commercialization of plays is relevant. "I have seen it all-the good, bad and ugly of plays. I started by watching classic plays by Aawishkar (Arvind and Sulabha Deshpande), Vijay Tendulkar and the like. Then there was the commercialization of theatre. Yes, alongside a few good plays continued to be made but audiences were flocking for run-of-the-mill plays. I realized that most Gujarati plays were adapted from Marathi plays. In addition the trend of taking popular Tv actors to act in plays was catching on. This set a new trend and audiences were coming only to watch a known face on stage. Moreover, we were also seeing new viewers hitherto unknown to theatre- those who had never watched plays before but were now attracted only due to the known faces from the world of TV serials.

Strangely commercial Gujarati plays are not just the preferred choice in India but they travel all over the world and receive good viewership but audiences preferences and tastes haven't changed. Now things are changing for the better in Gujarati theatre."

Though Manasi has acted in quite a few Gujarati plays she says Manoj Shah's musical Huto Huti remains her favourite along with Amar fal where she played a courtesan. "I had only two scenes in this play but my performance received a lot of critical acclaim. This also taught me a valuable lesson that the length of a role is not important but one should enjoy the role."

Manasi says she is making the most of the current situation and is busy doing dance recitals on the social platforms. She has also requested people for their song preferences and will soon sing all those songs."

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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