She had been doing it for years now and, this was a role she could manage even if she were told to do in sleep. ‘An old mother who has been troubled by her son and is left to fend by herself, all alone’ was the briefing given to her by the Casting Director (CD)‘Oh no! Not yet again’, she had murmured as she kept the phone down.
Manavi, now in her seventies, had been a name of pride for anyone who cast her in their drama or cinema. She was an actress who had not learnt the nitty-grittys of acting per se but had developed her own niche and class over the years through her keen observation and sense of performance.
She was not the fair and beautiful kind of heroine that would be required in a cinema but nevertheless her acting skills made her the number one in the race of all the glamorous heroines of her time. It was just a coincidence that she had tried acting in one of the dramas of her society when a drama director saw a sparkle in her performance and decided to take her in a lead performance for his drama. Not sure that she would be able to carry off such a big role and also the thought that it would affect her studies, her father had politely refused and asked that she be considered for any other time.
A few days passed and the director once again called up Manavi’s father and told her that he would wait for her vacation and begin the rehearsals and show only during vacation. He also made a promise that he would see to it that her school was not affected and pleaded that he gave permission for her to act in this drama. Her father could not refuse and permitted her. He or her mother took turns to take Manavi to the rehearsals and back home. Manavi, who was just 7 years old then, had hardly known that this role would carve her niche and destiny had great things stored for her.
The role, that Manavi was selected for, was that of a girl from middle class family, who is battling a dreaded disease and she has to cope with the daily trauma of hospital visits, her failing health and the agony of her parents who are trying to keep her happy while fighting all odds to meet both ends meet. Manavi did not know what the pain was but she followed the director and did just as she was told. The actors, Pratibha and Vishesh, who played her parents and were actors of high repute and caliber, helped her to be comfortable during many scenes that required intense acting. The director had made sure that, though the drama was on a serious issue, the atmosphere and the dialogues were not filled with too much pathos and drama, affecting the child psyche.
Manavi had done 8 shows on weekends all across the theatres of Mumbai and had received accolades for her performance. She went on to receive the best performance award given by the State for her performance. The bouquets she received meant nothing more to her than beautiful flowers and the interviews she faced were about smiles and thank you. It was not something she disliked but had no idea why she was being praised so much. Her friends also felt proud of her. Yet she was grounded and unfazed by all this and like any other girl spent her childhood normally, doing small roles occasionally in vacations only, a condition her parents felt necessary for her all around upbringing, with studies also having their due.
When Manavi went to college she was part of the cultural group and activities related to art. It was still not her dream to be ‘Actress or Heroine’. She was enjoying her teenage college life along with the dramas, which took more prominence now than they did in school. She was then asked for a role in a movie which she readily agreed. It was a role of a mother. The performance in the movie was exceptional and everyone vouched that this performance of her as a Mother was by far the best. Manavi got a list of roles in movies thereafter each one challenging and written with the female protagonist in limelight, giving Manavi an opportunity to showcase her acting skills and give her best performance.
With the advent of Television, Manavi was also offered roles in serials which she did with the same zest and fervor but did not enjoy it as much as she did drama and cinema. She was getting on the wrong side of age and hence the variety of roles that she got in drama as well as cinema were nowhere to be seen and so she took to accepting whatever came along and took everything in stride. She had been judging various dramas and cinema as a senior member and was happy doing the role as well. Rewards now came in ones and twos with a gap of 5 years but it did not matter what mattered was acting.
She had been living the characters, on and off and had blended with them so much that she would sometimes wonder who her real self was? It was not just her passion but her soul. Anyone who had worked with her would vouch for her punctuality, discipline and dedication. She was an institute within herself but with no strings of ego or pride attached. She mixed with the young actors with as much keenness as she would with seniors. Manavi was always willing to share her experiences with anyone who wanted to grow in the field of acting and had a passion similar to her.
Today she got ready in time and was into her car with her makeup done and with her favourite white tote bag dangling in the wrist of her right hand. She liked listening to music on her way to the place of shooting and so the driver had the music on, playing her favorite singer Pandit Kumar Gandharva. She would memorise her lines while listening to the music. It was her practice for many years now, though most actors of her stature hardly needed to do so and could easily demand time on the location and have retakes as they wanted but she did not.
She was at the shoot before time and as she stepped out of her car the CD welcomed her and told her that they were ready for the shoot but awaiting the main lead actor to reach. She was calm and relaxed. After about 15 mins, the actor was there and the whole unit was now charged up to begin the shoot. The director asked everyone to take their positions with all the cameras ready. Manavi was called and given touch up on her face before he called ‘ACTION’. Manavi gave her best performance and everyone was in tears as her character ‘the Mother’ pleaded her son to let her stay with him as his maid servant. ‘CUT’ said the director and there were claps all around. Manavi thanked all and sat in her chair thanking God for all that she got along the way in her life once again.
It was a pack up after almost eight hours since her shot but she had not left. Every member was getting ready to call it a day and eager to leave and reach their private abode. ‘MADAM’ a voice called her from behind. Manavi was startled and looked back, it was her director. He said ‘Madam, we are leaving for home. Are you not leaving?’She said ‘Yes’ and walked towards her car.
She got into it and thoughts once again rolled over her mind as the music played in background -‘Avadhoota Kudarat ki Gat nyari….‘(meaning Ways of Nature are Strange)-she had acted a ‘Mother’ a many times over but was deprived of being one. An act for which she received accolades, claps and rewards, over and over each time she performed, had eluded her life drama!!