Sujata Mehta
Actress Sujata Mehta reminisces with Mumbai Theatre Guide about her journey on the Gujarati stage. She also speaks avidly about CHITKAR, a play she has come to be identified with. Written & Directed by Latesh Shah, CHITKAR has been recently revived after nearly 13 years.

 Deepa Punjani

How were you first initiated to the theatre?
My uncle Hansu Mehta and aunt Devyani Mehta used to act on the Gujarati stage. My uncle was both an actor as well a model. They were well-known and I was always fascinated by their appearances on stage. They were fond of me and I used to attend their rehearsals too. The month of June was known for the opening of new plays and the rehearsals would begin from May. As an actress I started very young. I was a child-artiste on the professional stage. My first play was WAIT UNTIL DARK, in which I played the daughter of the lead character.

You came to be recognized with Kanti Madia’s AME BARAF NA PANKHI…
Yes. AME BARAF NA PANKHI was my first major hit. In it I played a young girl suffering from cancer. This was sometime in 78-79. I must say that I have worked with the best of directors like Kanti Madia, Pravin Joshi, Latesh Shah, Dinkar Jani, Arvind Trivedi and with writers such as Raju and Tushar Joshi.

How many plays have you done to date? Which have been your memorable ones?

I have not done many plays. About 20 perhaps. CHITKAR comes immediately to mind as a memorable play. Then there was MANE BINJ VETU about two women and one man. There are some people who have appreciated my performance in this play more than they did with CHITKAR. They found it to be more subtle. Homi Wadia’s RESHAM DANKH was also a good play. I enjoyed doing TAARE MAN HUN, MAARE MAN TU, which was later adapted as a Hindi play in which Apra Mehta and Smriti Irani play the lead roles.

Co-actors and actresses whom you have enjoyed working with…
The Jha brothers- Muni and Hemant Jha, with Meghna in TAARE MAN HUN, MAARE MAN TU. My association with Latesh Shah has also been significant.

Films like ‘Pratighat’ and tele-serials like ‘Srikanth’ also made you popular. You have collaborated with theatre person and critic Jyoti Vyas while she was working at Doordarshan. Can you elaborate on the experience?
The producers of Pratighat-the Tarachand group actually came to see CHITKAR and that is how I was offered the role of ‘Pratighat’. The producers were looking for a new face and a girl who could carry off a role realistically. As you know it is a woman-oriented film. It did win me an award too. ‘Srikanth’ was a classic and I do owe a lot to my co-actor Navin Nischal for putting in so much for the serial. With Jyotiben I remember doing ‘Paralysis’, which was a major tele-play. But to be honest I don’t enjoy doing television anymore. After recent serials like ‘Yeh Meri Life Hai’ and ‘Nimmo Ka Kya Hoga’ I am hesitant to take on roles. Those weekly and episodic serials were better but these daily soaps I find very difficult to like.

As an actor, what are your strong and weak points?
My strong points are that I like to go right till the nerve of the character. I am a good observer; I talk with one and all be it the bhelwala or someone at a Five Star hotel. They are my characters. My weak point is that I feel I am impatient although people whom I have worked with take me to be a patient person.

What made you revive CHITKAR after all these years?
I was getting real frustrated by the kind of roles that were coming my way. I felt the absence of good characters, good writing. Then there was always someone who I would meet and who would recall CHITKAR. Since we started rehearsing for the play and since it has opened, I feel a new energy. I do feel rejuvenated.

Does the revival follow the original version or are there any changes that have been made?
Think of this revival as a suit that was meant for Amitabh Bacchan and which is now been made to fit Rishi Kapoor. The original was a three and a half hour long play. But one can’t just afford to have such a long play in these times. We have to change. There were two intervals that used to take place with the original. Now we have a two and a half hour play with one interval. It is like breaking a diamond necklace. We are still trying to find the interlocking links with all the editing and chopping that has been done.

Did you research your role for CHITKAR?
I am a student of Psychology and the subject deeply interested me. But if you’re asking if I have been to say a mental hospital then I have not. My writer and director didn’t feel the need for me to go. Even when we first did the play, he said that he would let me know if he wants me to visit an institution.

Besides you and Latesh Shah, the other actors are all new?
Yes. We have a new cast of actors and it was interesting for me to rehearse because I had come to know all the lines of all the characters. So much so that my co-actors felt that I was being too demanding.

What is the audience response?
They have appreciated my role. Many were curious to find out if I could do this role again after so many years. The question that was topmost in their mind was ‘Kya Sujata Mehta kar payegi?’ My character was so entrenched in their memory that they remember things like the yellow colour of my saree, which I have tried to preserve even now. I was confident. Over the years I have matured. Previously I was raw.

So are you going to be travelling with the play?
Oh yes. But I want to take it easy. We want to be first noted in Mumbai. I don’t even want to take on too many sold-out shows although my co-actors are insisting that I should. They are used to the commercial cycle. The original production too had maximum number of public shows and I more interested in the opinion of a person who has bought a ticket.

What’s your dream role? Any plans for the future?
I remember watching a film called ‘Fedora’. There are two characters- that of a mother and a daughter in it. I would love to play either of them. It’s going to be CHITKAR for one year now. I am keen to do a one-woman show for an intimate place like Prithvi.

What is the subject about?
That I shall not reveal! But all I can say is that it’s a very cute character.

*The Interviewee is Editor of this site, a theatre critic and an academic keenly interested in Theatre & Performance Studies.

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