A Fireside Chat with Ratna Pathak Shah

Any popular personality from the glamorous world of entertainment radiates a feeling of panache from their mere presence. From being on the sets of future blockbuster films to attending gatherings and celebrations with the bourgeois, their personality is elusive, almost disconnected with that of the lives of their fans, whose populace are often in millions. 

Ratna Pathak Shah, however, paints a very ironic picture, just from her short appearance at Fortune Inn for ‘A Fireside Chat’ organized by The Think Tank. She has an esoteric perception of cinema, contrary to the imbecile, money-making, business facet of the industry. She is a staunch believer in delivering convincing performances. It is probably the reason why her long and illustrious career has seen her winning hearts in a multitude of roles. Her magnum opus has to be playing Maya Sarabhai, an archetypal South Bombay socialite in the satirical sitcom Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, which made her an icon in Indian television. 

Reminiscing to the good old days, she believes that Sarabhai vs Sarabhai has to be one of the best scripts she has worked on. For it was not the brainchild of scores of writers writing drafts in a pompous workshop, it was just one creative brilliance after other, by the show’s writer Aatish Kapadia, who was on a ‘roll’, as quoted by her. The script was barely altered, which made it all the more an artistic masterpiece. However, contrary to such impressive claims, the show prematurely went off the air, succumbing to the rat-race of TRPs, facing stiff competition from shows like Comedy Circus and Nach Baliye. According to Shah, it only found its present, cult-like phenomenon after its re-runs. 

Acting was something which she, somewhat inherited from her mother, Dina Pathak, a doyenne of Gujarati and Hindi film as well as theatre. It is something which she willingly admits, contrary to some of the current scions of dynastical families in the film industry. She also confesses that she took acting as her passion and vocation seriously considerably late in her life. Despite her association with the industry, finding success was not easy for her. She has struggled with pronouncing words in the English language, which became a serious impediment to her progression in the industry.

“I’m genuinely sorry that my generation has imposed a lifestyle on you all that forbids, rather scorns at you if you think. I want everyone to think first and then do anything in life.” Picture Credits: Almas Khan for MTTN

Shah is very critical of the sorry state of affairs that exist both in the film and television industry — enunciating on the quality of scripts that are being produced or even the teaching methods used in prestigious acting schools of the likes of the National School of Drama (NSD). She vehemently rejects the idea of theatre being a dying art, for some of the best productions are still being made in theatre. 

She is brutally honest and straightforward, and will not think twice to address the elephant in the room. Disdainful at the widespread hatred for political dissent, she stresses on the fact that her generation is imposing a lifestyle on the millennials and the youth, not letting them think. She goes on the extent of apologizing for the current scenario and requested the youth in the crowd to stop following and start thinking. 

The towering persona of the sexagenarian actor compliments her acting prowess. Despite all her years in films, TV and theatre, her role in Lipstick Under My Burkha did impose a challenge. Someone of her age openly exploring her sexual fantasies with a younger man, using pornographic writings on screen was something unheard of. Never was she offered a role which was so ‘bare’ in its outlook, but she feels glad that a film like Lipstick was made. 

She represents the intelligentsia in the entertainment industry, along with her husband Naseeruddin Shah, whose life encompasses outside the glitzy world of cinema. From her quoting the works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz to talking about 2001: A Space Odyssey, the crowd witnessed a formidable display of articulateness.  

Written by Rishi Kant for MTTN
Featured Image by Almas Khan

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