Heart goes out to actors like my mother who were trapped in a template, says Ratna Pathak Shah
Mumbai: Ratna Pathak Shah says she can't help but wonder how her mother, late veteran actor Dina Pathak, would have shattered stereotypes if she were working in the film industry today as the current set-up offers artistes to break free, an opportunity the earlier generation of artistes were deprived of.
A theatre stalwart, Dina Pathak featured in several landmark films of the 1970s and '80s, including "Gol Maal", "Khubsoorat", "Umrao Jaan" and the National Award-winning "Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho!"
But Ratna Pathak Shah, whose sister Supriya Pathak is also an acclaimed actor, said it was unfortunate the industry never really knew how to use her mother's potential. Dina Pathak passed away in 2002 at the age of 80.
"What a wonderful actress she was," she said.
"You guys never saw anything of her abilities because what I saw of her on stage, films never gave her a chance to do any of that. She just had three and a half expressions that she trotted out. In fact, Supriya and I used to often laugh, 'Oh, there's Maa doing expression number 65, I am sure it would be followed by expression number 33 very soon.' It was like that, poor thing," the actor told PTI in an interview.
Ratna Pathak Shah began her career in the '80s and got a breakthrough with the comedy show "Idhar Udhar". The sitcom, in which she appeared with Supriya Pathak, led her to "Sarabhai vs Sarabhai", the 2004 hit TV show that shot her to prominence as the socialite Maya Sarabhai.
The 64-year-old actor is known for her stellar work in films like "Mandi" "Mirch Masaala", "Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na", "Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu", "Kapoor & Sons" and "Lipstick Under My Burkha".
"I really wish Maa had been around today because she was meant for this kind of work. She was meant to be out of the box. But she was trapped in the white sari and expression number 65 for 30-40 years. My heart goes out to her even just thinking of the boredom that she had to face or so many other actors like her," she added.
Ratna Pathak Shah said acting stalwarts in India have been completely ignored, unlike other artistes from the world like English legends Alec Guinness or Laurence Olivier.
It's tragic that most of the young actors today aren't even aware of some of the most remarkable but lesser talked about Indian actors, she said.
"Shriram Lagoo, for example. You guys don't have a clue about the kind of magic he created on stage. He was breathtakingly good. But nobody's going to write about him as yet," Ratna Pathak Shah said about the veteran film and stage actor popular for Marathi films "Pinjra", "Mukta", and Hindi movies "Lawaris" and "Souten", among several others.
"Nobody has written enough about people like that. Unlike the Laurence Oliviers and the Alec Guinnesses of the world. And that's a great tragedy, that new actors today have no role models. Who do you make a role model, who do you hark back to? People, who do the same thing over and over again? Which is what most of our stars have done. What a narrow field young actors have had," she added.
Fortunately, Ratna Pathak Shah said, the landscape of Hindi cinema is changing. There is "good acting" seen in almost every format one is exposed to.
"Hats off, I'm really proud of that," she added.
The actor said her latest work in "Hum Do Hamare Do" is a testament to the varied range of interesting characters actors have the opportunity to play today.
Directed by Abhishek Jain, the film follows the story of an orphan named Dhruv, who "adopts" his parents, played by Ratna Pathak Shah and Paresh Rawal, to marry the love of his life.
"I find that the quality of writing has improved enormously over the last 10-15 years, like a quantum leap. This is one of the great pleasures of working today. You get to speak lies that don't sound like dialogue that sound like conversations, you get to deal with characters which make sense to you," she said.
In "Hum Do Hamare Do", scheduled to be released on streaming service Disney+ Hotstar on October 29, she plays Dipti Kashyap, a widow who comes on board to help Dhruv (Rajkummar Rao).
The actor said the role was a departure from the "somewhat regressive and boring" projects that were coming her way from streamers and TV.
But "Hum Do Hamare Do" -- where she was playing a middle-class, lonely woman with an unsuccessful love affair who is presented with the possibility of creating a new family -- was a breath of fresh air.
"I bought the idea. My character is a widow who lives alone and gets embroiled in the lives of these two young people who she doesn't know, she's never met and yet, a relationship develops between them. I liked that it wasn't something completely far-fetched.
"It certainly had a quality of a fable around it. My character is not terribly well defined, emotionally. And that was interesting because then you have to find your own way around a part like that and figure out what it is that makes a woman like that tick," she added.