Rohini Hattangadi Interview
She is the grande dame on stage and the big and small screen. Having clocked over four decades in the world of acting Rohini Hattangadi is a complete package!

 By Jahnavi Pal

She can make you laugh, cry, mesmerize and hypnotize you with her acting skills. The supremely talented actor has done it all. If she has wowed you in her solo play APARAJITA where she plays multiple characters, she bowled you over in YAKSHAGANA, a folk play in Kannada and received rave reviews for her outstanding work in the Marathi play MITRACHI GOSHT. Having won the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2004 for her contribution to Indian theatre, Rohini has also won the BAFTA award for her role as Kasturba in the landmark film GANDHI. Rohini's latest offering NAUKRANI in Gujarati has had a very successful run before Corona struck.

An alumna of National School of Drama, Rohini is one of the finest talents in the country.

In a free- wheeling chat the affable Rohini talks of everything from her NSD days to her director husband late Jayadev to some of her best roles and what ails the world of theatre today.

"I started doing theatre right from my school days when I acted in many children's plays," she begins." I was a student of classical Indian dance and that's how I got into acting. They were casting for a play which had three dances in it and as I was a student of dance I got selected. After this I went on to do several plays in college. Back in the 60s there were very few girls who took to acting hence I would get called. In those days we used to have many drama competitions-- inter-college, inter-bank level, inter- factory. Though I was not serving anywhere I would get called to participate as a guest artiste. Though I never got any awards I received a lot of critical acclaim," she reminisces.

"After completing my BSc I was looking for a job. Despite looking hard I failed to get one. One day my dad saw an ad in the newspapers which offered scholarships in different performing arts. He asked me to apply. It so happened that two years back NSD had toured Mumbai and Pune with two of their plays, CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE and JASMA ODAN. My father who was in Mumbai then had seen Ebrahim Alkazi perform. And now we heard that Alkazi was the Director of NSD. So impressed was he with Alkazi that he was keen I go to Delhi to study this craft. Three months passed and nothing happened. I had almost given up hope when I got a call for an interview. The first round happened in Kolkata and the next in Delhi. Only two of us from theatre got the scholarship. Alkazi was on the panel. I was over the moon. NSD was the best thing to have happened for me. I learnt everything from set design, lighting, music, carpentry, writing to acting. In my second year I specialized in acting."

Talking of the two milestones in her early life as an acting student Rohini proudly says, " I was the first woman to act in YAKSHAGANA a folk play In Kannada and the first woman in Asia to do the Japanese theatre, Kabuki."

It was here that Rohini met Jayadev whom she married later. Both of them got associated with the theatre group Awishkar, that they launched with some other theatre makers, and went on to do several plays together.The plays that remain really close to her heart are MEDEA, APARAJITA , MITRACHI GOSHT and THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA which was performed on Marathi stage.

Talking of the moments she shared with Jayadev she says, " I learnt a lot from him especially when doing APARAJITA, my solo play. He had a logic and reasoning for everything we did on stage. I used to totally depend on him after understanding his rationale. Initially I did question him but later realized that as an actor I was selfish and looking at it only from my perspective whereas he would look at it in totality. In fact, APARAJITA was written in the 70s so it had a very different end then. But when I performed it in the 90s Jaydev changed it and tweaked it to suit the times. When we performed for a show in Kolkata the writer Nitin Sen had come to watch it and he too agreed with the changes. For me MEDEA was a very challenging role. Jayadev had stylized this Greek play and for the first time a chenda ( a percussion instrument widely used in Kerala) was used on stage for a Greek play. Initially I found it difficult to act whilst someone played the instrument but subsequently I began to enjoy this. But as fate would have it we had stop these performances as I was pregnant. Ironically the play is about a mother who kills her two sons and my doctor asked me not to do the play during my pregnancy. But did perform this play after my son Aseem was born."

She goes on to share a very humorous incident that took place during the 25th show of MITRACHI GOSHT. "This was in 1981 and I was five months pregnant. A scene required me to change in a male costume where I was to wear trousers. I had run backstage for the change but couldn't button my trousers as I hadn't accounted for my bulge. We were losing precious time and I could figure what to do. Finally with the help of a lot of safety pins I managed to open the trousers and I pulled my shirt out to hide both my belly and the pinned-up trousers!"

Catapulting to the current times Rohini says she is dejected with the neglect theatres face today. "As an actor I can perform anywhere and everywhere. All I need is an open space. But the conditions in which we perform are so deplorable that I feel humiliated as an artiste. In Mumbai, most theatres are shutting down and the few that are left are not maintained. Stinking toilets, no drinking water, torn seats and many other issues. Some theatres are so far off that who is going to take the trouble to travel so far to see a play? The rents of theatres are also prohibitive and no experimental plays find space to perform. There have been instances when I have gone and opened the locks of the gates of a theatre in a small town as there are no attendants. Theatres are totally neglected."

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