BWW Interview: Mita Vasisht of AGNIPANKH at NCPA, Mumbai
Mita Vasisht, an actor known for her powerful performances both on live stage and on camera, is back on stage currently with her period play Agnipankh. The prestigious National School of Drama (NSD) alumni, who plays the unforgettable role of Dugeshwari in the historial drama talks to BWW about her life as an artist, women characters on stage and her philanthropic activities...
BWW: Tell us about Agnipankh and why do you think the play is important in today's world
MV: The world today is about freedom and individual rights. Huge technological advances have allowed individuals to create their own individual worlds---there is so much connectivity due to technology (social media etc) that we have actually disconnected from the collective consciousness and collective responsibility. The fundamental principles that kept us grounded in a world that was constantly changing, have today been dismissed as dated values. The proof of this is that we as a species are still not free of greed, of aggrandizement, of terrible inhumanity towards each other-- as people, as nations...
Speaking personally as a woman I feel, as the female of the species, while we do fight for women's' rights at every level, we have also allowed the feminine space to be diminished, we have allowed for our uniqueness and strengths to be constantly set up in comparison to the male and very often, for and the female body to be abused in the name of 'freedom to do what I want with my body'.
The woman today has made herself extremely vulnerable by giving up the feminine space. Agnipankh is a wonderful play for all these reasons.
It has at the core of the plot, a powerful woman, who is tradition bound in terms of the values and principles she has been born into. She is very conscious and clear about her rights as a woman, as a wife, as a mother and as the feminine force that runs the financial empire of this zamindar family.
The play challenges and questions both: tradition and modernity and upholds fundamental human values and principles--- the lack of these in today's world is what makes our species an unhappy one, despite all our sense of achievement and advancement.
Despite 'Agnipankh' being a play set in 1948, Bai Saab is really a woman ahead of her times. While my character of Bai Saab is a beautiful, wonderful woman of power and vulnerability, I do love all the other characters in the play---each one is beautifully delineated.
I admire the play for the passion and humor and emotional drama with which is brings us face to face with what is essential to human life no matter how much the world around us changes.
BWW. You have done some landmark work in Indian theatre such as roping in sex workers for theatre programs. Tell us a about it
MV: I worked with rescued trafficked minors ---young girls who were rescued from the brothels of Mumbai and then brought to the one government run remand home in Deonar (a Mumbai suburb).
Though I am not trained in teaching theatre to trafficked minor victims, just through my personal experience of around 25 years of practice in the theatre, I devised a methodology and a training process based on the performing arts that proved to be highly successful in helping the trafficked minors to heal and transform mentally, physically, emotionally and intellectually. It was a continuous process for 5 years. Theatre being such an inclusive process their training included all sorts of performing arts - classical singing, pottery, painting, speech and voice training, Indian classical dance and Indian classical martial arts, drama etc.
They also continuously performed within and outside the remand home--- in fact traveled and performed a play at various festivals - a big event festival was the International Women Director's festival in Delhi. The results were fantastic.
Today all of them are leading regular lives --- no one ever would believe, that they were once victims of trafficking.
Apart from other plays and my work in cinema and TV close to my heart is 'Lal Ded', a solo theatre play of 60 minutes duration that I perform.
The play is on the iconic woman mystic and poet Lal Ded of Kashmir of the 14th century. The play is in its twelfth year of performance and it's been an amazing journey each time I perform
BWW: Are you also teaching drama at facilities in India, if yes where all and how you think studying drama today may be different from before. What are the interactive methods that you apply?
MV: Theatre was a choice I made at the age of 19 and I feel so blessed that I chose this path. Theatre is the ocean into which any and every stream of knowledge can flow and be relevant...You are thus a student for life----
Teaching for me is a continuous extension of this flow of consciousness...nothing is irrelevant then in one's life, in one's practice, of one's mistakes and one's errors---everything finds a relevance in the theatre.
Nothing is a waste. Yes I have been visiting faculty to Film and Television Institute of India, National School of Drama, National Institute of Fashion Technology, National Institute of Design and Whistling Woods.
BWW: What would you say about the theatre in India currently?
MV: Our treatise on Drama is called the 'Fifth Veda' and it was written two thousand five hundred years ago. It is the most comprehensive treatise on the art and the craft of the performer. The concepts of the four aspects of performance and the Rasa theory is so highly realized and advanced that really, nothing,nothing has been ever written in the world of drama theory that is not already there in the Natyashastra. In India drama was considered essential to the intellectual health and emotional and spiritual well being of people and societies... It is not a co-incidence that the eras in which drama and the performing arts were at the core of the society were also the most enlightened and prosperous eras in the history of our country. I believe the two aspects go hand in hand. Currently drama is flourishing in India but, it is not at the core of the nation's sense of well-being. We have so much scope for magnificence and excellence ----and such a scope to create a space of discourse and intellectual rigor and self-realization and reasoning and learning for the younger generation (for any generation for that matter)---we need to understand that...
BWW: For you, what has been the most challenging and satisfying project till date and why
MV:I am everything I do.I am also what I choose not to do. My life is not separate from the choices I make as an artist. I am happy with all the wonderful lives I have lived in the theatre in films in television in teaching student actors, directors, designers, my once trafficked minor kids---its all a continuum.It is as they say in the Indian aesthetics---a continuum, a circle....
The play will be staged in Mumbai at the TATA Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point on Sunday, May 7th 2017 at 7:30 PM.