Meenal Patel Interview
The feisty, bold, outspoken Meenal Patel is recognized in the world of acting for her challenging work in theatre, television and films. Be it Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi, Bengali or English, Meenal has proven beyond doubt that she is a master of her craft.

 By Jahnavi Pal

Theatre goers have loved her in some of the most iconic plays like GANDHI VIRUDDH GANDHI, SAKHARAM BINDER, MARO PIYO GAYO RANGOON, CHOR CHOR. Born in a family of musicians, Meenal decided to become an actor when she was in school. Way back in 1959, she performed in a play when she was in class 9. Having enjoyed the experience she continued with her passion, and today the actor has been on stage for almost 55 years.

"My grandfather was an actor in silent films and my father (the late singer-composer Ninu Mazumdar) also acted in a few films, so acting was in my genes. Both my sisters Rajul Mehta and Sonal Shukla were very good singers and I too had a flair for it. My brother Uday is a singer-composer as well. But I never thought of pursuing music as a career. In fact I wanted to be a dancer. Acting, dancing and music are three different sides of the same art," she says.

Sharing a humorous incident which also gives an insight of the spunk that she displayed early in life Meenal continues, "I had taken part in a Bengali play for an inter-college drama competition which had Hrishikesh Mukherjee as the judge. It so happened that a Gujarati boy was given a prize as Hrishida felt that despite being a non-Bengali the boy had given a good performance. This upset me and I went up to him and told him that I too was a non-Bengali and why wasn't I considered for a prize? Hrishida told me that going by my surname which was Mazumdar then he thought that I was a Bengali. This was award enough for me!"

Meenal began her professional career on stage in 1964 with a play titled LAKHYA LEKH LALATE with Chandravadan Bhatt. "There was a dearth of girls in theatre and I looked presentable, was Ninu Mazumdar's daughter and though I was not so good I got good work. Moreover there were no family restrictions for me. I could work at odd hours and hence work kept coming to me."

She says though she was not a trained actor she learnt the craft through experience. " I always say I am a product of the audience's laboratory. Theatre has been my best training ground. To me theatre gave me the most satisfaction because one is creating something anew each time one performs. As for television, it is a writer's medium and films are a director's medium. But theatre gives you an opportunity to create your own magic."

Sharing her concerns with the commercialization in theatre Meenal rues, " In days of yore there were plays that had tragedy, melodrama, suspense and even comedy. Sadly , things have changed dramatically in the past 20 years. One only finds ‘masala' in plays. I attribute this change to the concept of sold-out shows. With the emergence of social groups who buy out the play it is they who dictate the content. Very often they are present during the rehearsals and demand changes as well! Instead of becoming professional theatre is becoming commercial. Gujarati theatre has been deteriorating over the years. I am of the belief that we can change people's tastes. But instead of changing their tastes we are catering to the lowest common denominator. We have had some of the finest talent on Gujarati theatre like Pravin Joshi, Sailesh Dave, Aatish Kapadia, J.D.Majithia. So why can't we continue to do good work?"

Talking of actors who use theatre to leap frog into the more lucrative world of television and films ,Meenal says, " Money is a magnet and attracts all. It's ok for actors to do this but I feel they should occasionally come back to do good theatre. The classic case is that of Paresh Rawal, who whenever he feels he has stagnated returns to theatre do a good play. My anger is more towards those who construct theatre buildings. In India no theatre is built taking after consulting actors, directors, producers. When I was performing at the newly renovated Jaishankar Sundari Auditorium in Ahmedabad I realized that the green room mirror had only white lights and not the most needed yellow lights. It is impossible to judge your make-up in these lights. Also, mirrors are also fitted keeping in mind the height of female actors as a result of which one has to stand on a stool when applying make-up."

Going down memory lane Meenal lists out some of her most challenging roles. SAAVARIYO ADHURO MAARO AAYKHO" which was only the second play of my career was one of the best plays I have acted in. Directed by Kanti Madia it was adapted from a Marathi play Maala Uttar Have. It was a very challenging role and that too so early in my career. It had many soliloquies and I would rehearse late into the night. I had to work on my voice and I would request Kanti Madia to help me. He was such a dedicated director that he too would sit back with me and even pay me taxi fare to return home! Yet another lovely role was the one I did in PELU GULAB ANE HOON. It was an experimental play by Labhshankar Thakar where I played the role of an actor. I rehearsed for over three months and though it was a very difficult role, I thoroughly enjoyed it. SAKHARAM BINDER, JUNGLEE KABUTAR AND GANDHI VIRUDDH GANDHI were the other milestones in my career. In GANDHI VIRUDDH GANDHI I learned a lot from the brilliant Atul Kulkarni."

Moving to her life in corona times the feisty actor says, "I am technically illiterate and hence not doing much these days. I can't even upload a video on YouTube. But I will soon ask my son to teach me and then people can watch me on the digital platform too."

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