Preeta Mathur Interview
Not many know that she is an MBA who held a corporate job. But the acting bug bit her when she was just ten and she succumbed to it almost four decades ago. Preeta Mathur is a veteran on the Hindi stage and has regaled audiences with brilliant performances in plays like KANYADAAN, ANJI, KHAMOSH ADALAT JARI HAI, JIS LAHORE NAHIN DEKHYA, EK DIN BANK MEIN , HUM DONO, JAAT NA POOCHO SADHU KI, HAI MERA DIL amongst several others.

 By Jahnavi Pal

Mathur now heads her late husband Dinesh Thakur's theatre group Ank which celebrates its 45th anniversary in October thisyear. To have stayed afloat and been counted among the top theatre groups of the country is a feather in Mathur's cap.

"When I did my first play I had no idea what acting was all about. But I still remember that it was exhilarating. Stepping up on stage was a tremendous experience for me as against playing with dolls or some other such activity. Fortunately all the schools I studied in encouraged extra curricular activities and this helped me a great deal. When I studied in a girl's school I ended up playing only boy's roles but this too helped me evolve as an actor. It was great as we had very good teachers who taught us speech, acting. But my father never thought there could be a career in theatre. I did my graduation and then my MBA.

"Very few can survive only on theatre. All it gives is some conveyance money and moreover nobody in my family had ever done something like this so my father thought it would be stupid of me to pursue acting as a full time profession.

He said NSD is out of the question and I would have to pursue a corporate career. He was firm about me going in for higher studies and told me that once I started earning I could do what I wanted with my money. I was good at studies and went on to do my MBA. After this I was sure I didn't want to work in Delhi because of its reputation and so I packed my bags for Mumbai. I got a job in ACC and I was thrilled as it was a 9-5 job which offered me the liberty to chase my theatre dreams after office hours."

Mathur landed in the city of dreams and soon got an opportunity to work for IPTA. " It was a huge training ground for me where I picked up the nuances of acting by observing established actors like A. K.Hangal. Unfortunately at IPTA one couldn't grow as the senior actors had no time to teach newcomers. But I would attend every single rehearsal and learn all about the craft by watching them rehearse.

"Professional training started at IPTA. Then I saw how Dineshji was working and how he was teaching his actors. At that time I was doing serials like Kashish and M. Sathyu's Kaaya which also had a lot of actors who were from Ank and they told me I must meet Dineshji and try and get into the group. But when I met him he dissuaded me saying I was already with IPTA and also acting and totally discouraged me. It so happened that a friend called me saying Dineshji was doing a new new play for which he was looking for actors and that I should go meet him."

And Mathur soon pushed her way in and soon became a part of Ank. Her maiden play called ADAL BADAL had her in a miniscule role. "This was my first and last tiny role in Ank. I soon started to do many more plays with him and whereas with IPTA I had done only four plays in the three years I was with them I did four plays in a year with Ank. Then he wanted to KANYADAAN in Hindi. Dineshji has a record of doing all Tendulkar's plays in Hindi. I played the lead role of Jyoti and it was a great learning curve for me. I can say this, along with all of Tendulkar's plays, were a turning point in my life. Then I did ANJI where I played a North Indian girl with a typical accent who is very straight forward and very appealing. In Dineshji's own words I did a good job and I too felt I did a good job! Then I did KHAMOSH ADALAT JARI HAI and AADHE ADHURE which were my learning schools. "

Lamenting the fact that in those days Hindi plays didn't have a specific place to showcase their plays Mathur is grateful that Prithvi Theatre happened at that time and they got an opportunity to perform there. "When Prithvi opened in 1978 Hindi plays had a new address. At that time there were only a handful of groups that helped put Hindi plays on the map. And Ank was one of them."

But it wasn't an easy journey for the talented actress. She says she never ever wanted to look into the day to day affairs of managing Ank but destiny had other plans. Dinesh Thakur passed away and she was compelled to take on the responsibilities. Along with actors like Brij Bhushan Sahni, Aman Gupta, Ankur Bajaj who were by her side she took up the task.

And Ank grew from strength to strength. "In any theatre company the most difficult part is to get the best from your actors. But once you have a good bunch of actors half the battle is won. The four years that Dineshji wasn't well he initiated me into the running of Ank. But after he passed away the most crucial question was who would direct? I had no ambition of becoming a director. I felt I wanted to much more as an actress. But we had friends of Dineshji like Devendraraj Ankur who was the head of NSD and Ramgopal Bajaj and Ashok Mishra, who we invited to direct for Ank and they obliged. We therefore got exposed to different styles. The kind of standard and quality that Dineshji had was never compromised. Moreover the actors who were with us should also grow. More than my being a director I wanted to encourage others to becoming directors. And that's how BIWION KA MADARSA was revived."

Mathur is excited that with theatres opening up she will soon be back to doing what she loves most. HAMARI NEETA KI SHAADI will be her offering post the pandemic when it will show in Prithvi theatre on November 9 and 10.

She has been active during the pandemic as well with story telling sessions on Zoom which have been well received. " These were story telling sessions but with a difference. We explored Premchand, Sharad Joshi , Renu, where I involved my other actors as well. I narrated the stories without changing the text. I didn't interrupt the flow and in fact highlighted it with music and songs. Earlier I would pick up stock music but now my music director who is in Baroda sent me recorded pieces of what I wanted. I also got my cousin to sing in one of my narrations. Someone even wrote a ghazal sitting in his home town. It has been a bad time but I will not deny that it has been a time for growth."

Sharing her future plans for Ank, Mathur says, " Apart from HAMARI NEETA KI SHAADI I am working on a play by Girish Karnad and also plan to revive an old Ank play. As we have all become bankrupt in the past two years, our new plays will also be done on a shoestring budget. Theatre will go on for sure. We have plans but am worried that with the new guidelines of only 50% occupancy I don't know how many will come to the theatre. The hope is that people are tired of sitting at home and are looking forward to watching a play. Also there will be an OTT fatigue as all that they have been doing is sitting in the same chair watching TV. I too recorded a few of my plays with a four camera set-up but I am not so happy with the outcome. So am looking forward to returning on stage."

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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