Ratna Pathak Shah knows how not to mince words. Be it her political stance or her opinion of the current-day Hindi film industry, Pathak Shah does not hold back.
At the India Today Woman Summit 2018, the veteran actress spoke about her work, career and life on a session titled Coming of Age: When Grey is Good.
Key takeaways from the session:
ON GOLMAAL 3
When the script was recited to me it sounded funny, but when it was made, it was not even half funny. They underlined every joke, They spoonfed [you]. I don’t understand why we keep making the same mistake over and over again. It was supposed to be a funny film, but the way they executed was so obvious and prude. And I felt bad. Even if we have the material, we don’t know how to work with it.
Rohit Shetty has everything planned for you. He doesn’t need you to do anything apart from being there. That’s it.
ON KAPOOR AND SONS
I can tap into my experiences in real life. I have had a rather interesting and varied life, and one brings that to work. Kapoor and Sons was very well written. The writer contributed a great deal for bringing out the character.
Rajat Kapoor and I know each other. We both work in theatre. We both have comfort and it makes us behave in a very real manner.
The Hindi world confuses how they are on screen and how they should be as a person.
LIPSTICK UNDER MY BURKHA
The sensitivity of the entire cast and crew on set. All of our story had very emotional, sexual, difficult scenes to do. It is difficult to perform in front of a large set of strangers. But we did. Alankrita [Shrivastava, the director] created a beautiful set. That was quite extraordinary.
It was a fantastic experience. I never thought movies like these would be made. But it was a director I could trust, a crew I could trust. These are the moments I have seen through life. These lovely human interactions around us. That makes us realise how much the world around us is changing.
I was delighted that I was given a part like that. I did feel a little worried about how these scenes would be shot, but not after we started.
Alankrita struggled for five years, in every sort of way for Lipstick Under My Burkha. Soon there would be a time when the gender of the director did not matter. The stereotype exists in the brains of the audience, not the creator.
I think Maya Sarabhai clicked in a bigger way. I have been offered the snooty bitch role everywhere. But it can get a bit boring. I would like to try something else every once in a while. I am always offered upper-middle class, English speaking, Westernised snooty bitch. But I can do all kinds of things, So I turned down as many of these things. I don’t get a lot of work. I get offered enough to keep myself afloat and keep my house going. It keeps me free to do a chance to do theatre. That is my karmabhoomi. I feel most alive and most fulfilled when I am on stage.
I did theatre before I went to the NSD. I started out in 1974 doing plays in Mumbai. I realised I needed to be trained.
You get some easy things. You get introduced to more people. But that’s it. Anyone who says it’s a bed of roses, it’s not true. All it gets them is a couple of easy introductions. After that, it all depends on what they are capable of. You’ve seen it over and over again. You can fool some people some of the time. But hopefully, you can’t fool all the people all of the time.
BEING A LIBERAL IN BOLLYWOOD
Bollywood was as liberal as it got in India, in some ways. It was a place where it was possible to be somebody without having bags of money behind you. That’s our natural tendency. Hindi cinema was one area where it was a leveller in a way. People from all over the country participated in it. Indian cinema has had an enormous impact.
You have no time and space to make an opinion. You are so busy uploading stuff. But we were encouraged to think. In college, I was expected to think. That’s how I grew up. I think that is the role of education. That’s how we culture ourselves. By making up our own mind on what we see around us. We are constantly dependent on other people’s opinion unless I am told. I did not grow up in a world like that. Reality comes and bites you in the bum every single day. That’s true for everyone who doesn’t live in the Ambani house. I don’t want to live in a gated community of the mind too.
I grew up in an India where we thought for ourselves.
The men don’t even know what torture they are being subjected to. Imagine what we are doing to our sons. At every step of the way, they are being told what to do and how to think. Patriarchy has played a dirty trick on men, and women are very responsible for it. We are the ones who bring them up as mothers and pander to them as wives. We should bring up our sons and daughters and husbands and wives to be humans first.
You can’t dump responsibility on someone. Women cannot do everything. The society also has to accept that women cannot do everything.
LISTENING MORE THAN TALKING
As actors, we never have the art of listening. It took me such a long time to learn listening. I was dumb when I was young. But I grew up and learnt to listen. I can’t tell you what that has given me. In terms of language and learning about human relationships, I have learnt a lot.
THEATRE VS MOVIES AND TELEVISION
Theatre is my training ground. That’s where I have great freedom to interact with beautiful writing. Television? Writing? In television, the three slaps in a row was one of the first shots that I did. That was in 1984-85. Aaj bhi wahi!
Sarabhai was shot in 2005. That is 12 years ago. Till today, there is nothing to match that. It is nothing to be proud of! Isn’t it strange?
We must become more demanding as audiences.
Look at the writers we have in the 20th century. Sadat Haasan Manto, Ismat Chugtai; and in Hindi films, we have Sajid-Wajid, Nannu-Mannu… my preference is for the theatre.
GLIMPSES OF 1970s IN TODAY’S FILMS
There is the scent of truth in stories like Dum Laga Ke Haisha and Bareilly Ki Barfi. I hope this spreads. I am not holding my breath. In India, it’s always one step forward and three steps back. You will see the effect of internet on cinema. I am dying for this new world. We will finally have real situations. But first we will have lots of sex and violence. For some reason, that’s our only idea of growing up. I don’t think so. This new exposure to the world will make a difference.
ON 40 YEARS WITH NASEERUDDIN SHAH
Partner. Simple. The journey has been fantastic. Great fun. I hope we have more time together. We have grown up together. I really respect him as an actor deeply. I have learnt a lot from him as an actor and human being. I would call him a guru, but he hates to be called one. He is a guru who sets an example. Therefore, it’s been an extremely exciting and fulfilling 40-something years with him.
Quite honestly, I don’t feel like I’ve lost out on anything. I love being called his wife. He is a significantly better actor than me, but that doesn’t mean I am not good enough. It’s a wonderful equal partnership. I think equality is absolutely essential and it’s not easy.
The secret is work. The fact that we both like acting so much and we both love theatre.
ART IN THE FACE OF PAIN
When I’m in pain, I seek PG Wodehouse! Guaranteed to cure pain, at least temporarily. But pain needs to be looked at and stared in the face. Music does that, great art does that. That is painful. But you have to look at it in the face.