Saturday, December 19, 2015

Meeting Rohini Hattangadi

When Shobhs went on a trip with her cousin Suhita's colleagues on the popular Marathi serial 'Honar Soon Mee Ya Gharchi" a couple of years ago, the first thing I said was 'Can you get me Rohini Hattangadi's autograph?'. I am not much of an autograph person and there are few people who I would ask for an autograph but Rohini Hattangadi somehow brought out that reaction from me. Rohini was gracious enough to give me her autograph too.

Last week the same group of friends - Rohini Hattangadi, Suhita Dharmadhikari, Smita, Purnima and Supriya (in the serial they all live together in a house where there are seemingly no men) visited Hyderabad on a vacation. The last two days of the trip were spent with us at our home. Of course they were all more than welcome to stay, and I only wondered if they would be able to slum it down with us. Suhita said they were absolutely cool with it and the idea was to have fun.

In little ways, despite the severe shortage of time, as they were travelling a lot, I got a glimpse of Rohini Hattangadi up close and once again I felt, there was something to this greatness in people. There are certain underlying traits that make them special so that life runs up to them and offers them its best.

All first impressions of her name bring back visuals of Richard Attenborough's 'Gandhi' where she played Kasturba Gandhi. She played the role when she was 27 and sometime after played the role of Anupam Kher's aged wife in 'Saaransh' when they were both just 30s perhaps. The images from Gandhi remain etched in our minds as also the many character roles she played with complete dignity - even those villainous ones. Rohini Hattangadi, says Wikipedia, is the only Indian actress to have won a BAFTA for her role in Gandhi which is a huge honor. A national film award and two Filmfare awards accompany that. I love the fact the she continues to work, travel and just go with the flow instead of withdrawing from life.

From her first hello at home, I found her very grounded. She graciously gifted me a shirt that all my lovely guests bought for me and advised me 'Try it. I hope it fits'. It fit and very well too. That evening we spent a bit of time before dinner, discussing a bit of Hyderabad's history or what I knew of it. I told them about the Qutb Shahis and the Nizams, the nan as the emblem on the Nizam's flag, of the palaces and their significance, and whatever I could remember. There was easy banter and humor at the table and they adjusted with an ease I would not have thought possible.

Suhita knows of my penchant for interviews - I interviewed her and Jayant (though I have still not put Suhita's interview up yet) - so she prodded me and said I should interview Rohini. It was topmost on my mind ever since I heard she would be coming but I was unsure because they had such packed schedules. I said I would love to and asked Rohini for some time. I wanted her thoughts on acting, on the craft, on preparation. Rohini was more than willing and said she would.

The first thing that strikes you about her is the complete lack of airs. She is very approachable and there is not an iota of energy about her which says - man she is a busy person who is involved with herself so let's not disturb her. She is aware and present totally, as a person, not a star.

As we early risers crowded around the table for morning tea the next day, Suhita introduced me as a writer and a cricketer. Rohini told me of her uncle CP Joshi who was a cricketer too and who played in Rajasthan with Ranjitsinghji. While Suhita told them of my cricketing exploits I quipped that it was so long ago and that I think people should only talk of what they did in the last five years. Rohini laughed at herself and said 'Don't I know that?  I have been stuck with the Gandhi image for so many years now.' I really admire people who can laugh at themselves. I can't.

While discussing 3 Idiots I put up rather harsh and unreasonable arguments against the movie and it was interesting to see how vehemently Shobha and Suhita defended Hirani's wonderful piece of work while Rohini listened and responded indulgently. Okay you have your own views though they appear rather biased and silly was the feeling but what's important was that I felt I was allowed to have my say. I also love people who respect people with differing opinions.

Next day I could spend some more time with her at the breakfast table. I asked her what she thought was great acting. She said it was about how one makes the viewer believe that the character is feeling what the character wants to convey. She said this is something that happens differently each time an artist addresses that role - one's experience adds depth she said. When I asked her about how important stillness is (quoting Morgan Freeman), she thought for a bit. Then she said 'I remember Shekhar Kapoor once telling Naseer on the sets of Masoom, to be still. Naseer had this habit of fiddling with set property all the time. Perhaps there was something about stillness there,' she said. It's an endearing quality to say she didn't really think too much about this stillness but that she could map an experience and connect it to the craft so quickly. They say this is a quality of experts - to have their template and long term memory and to be able to quickly retrieve it for use.

I asked her about the days at NSD where she studied 1971 on and won the award for Best Actress and Best all-round student. She also met her husband Jayadev Hattangadi who was her classmate and who won the Best Director award there. Rohini spoke of Ebrahim Alkazi and his demanding syllabus, the Stanislavski methodology, set design, the Kabuki play, the work ethic that was demanded of them, the many experts who visited them. The syllabus appeared daunting even as she reeled it off and one wondered how much effort went into passing that course. I asked her if people failed - she said yes. She spoke about how one guy was flunked by a narrow margin and how they had all pleaded with Mr. Ebrahim Alkazi and he said 'how could I pass someone who did not know about..." There was a great fondness in her tone as she recounted the stories of the NSD days where Naseer was one year senior to her and where she met her late husband Jayadev.

I asked her how she got inspired sometimes to find that elevated performance. I told her that I try to populate my mind with that elusive thought, search for the answer, and then suddenly out of the blue, it struck me. She agreed with the out of the blue bit. Once she said she was searching for a particular quality of tone she wanted to use for her role and suddenly on television she heard this voice and she said, yes, that's the voice I want to use. She tried it and it worked. She said she normally found what she was looking for without too much effort.

I told her about what I read about acting - from Naseer's book where he mentions how Om Puri worked on his craft and performed so well in a Kabuki play that left Naseer wondering how one could approach their work. It was not about talent - it was about careful, deliberate work. And about what Amitabh said once about it being all in the eyes. She said that in theatre one had to use the whole body while in cinema perhaps the eyes will do the trick.

After seeing the sound and light show at Golconda she shook her head and said - "why could they just not have some people play act a bit? It would have been so interesting to watch". I thought, yes, how interesting it would have been if there were real figures running up and down the fort. Wow!

We spoke about this and that and though I did not quite get the interview I wanted, I was glad I could discuss some ideas with her. I wanted to know more about how she approaches preparation, her craft, what worked and what didn't, her favorite roles and actors, performances she loved of her own and of others, what the craft means to her and her secret formula for great performances etc. But those apart I found this absolutely breathtaking humility - in the way she picked up my plate off the table after breakfast, thought not for a moment before cleaning up the table, had no qualms of a special place at the table or in the house. There is this completely disarming quality of just being grateful to life - even to the extent of asking me while she left - "I hope that our morning chat was enough". To have remembered that much, to know of people and be sensitive to their hopes and aspirations, of how things work, of her place in it, is easily what greatness is made of. Shobhs tells me the same things, of how Rohini never complained or sought special recognition or treatment.

If I have to take some learning from her it is this humility, this being so completely normal, this love for her craft which keeps her going to perform, this eagerness to learn and travel in complete anonymity, her ease with her younger colleagues and with strangers, there is much to learn. She says no more than required and no less, carries herself with grace and dignity and yet stays so simple and grounded.

This is an autograph I will surely cherish and perhaps I will conclude my interview sometime else. Thanks for your time Rohini and I hope we mwwt again so we can chat some more.


Hmmm said...

Whoa! Rohini Hattangadi (did I spell her name correct) at your home amazing. There is certain charm about them all - of all those actors who made way into our hearts via Hindi Cinema and perhaps DD TV too. That you cared to ask about stillness - mind blowing, and then that she mentioned about Masoom, Shekhar Kapur and Naseeruddin - amazing...always wondered why his performance in that film looks so different. Glad I read this one...made my day.

Rajendra said...

I sat in on a part of this conversation, I remember. Though she acted in a lot of films, she had a quality of playing the character effortlessly, which few actors seem to have- sort of merging into the role. Great meeting her. Your place is becoming a happening place!

Harimohan said...

Dear Hmmm, whoa indeed. It's always an education to meet such people. You are right - there is a certain charm - something real about them. Most of them were also passionate about the craft, the journey was more important. One respects that.

Harimohan said...

Yes Raja. That quality of merging into the role makes them almost invisible on screen - which is perhaps the greatest quality of an actor.

It was a great conversation and could have gone on for a few hours. Glad we could make the most of that time. :)