Indian actress Sulabha Arya known for her role in series ‘Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi’ and of a scandalised Kantaben in ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’ or the much appreciated ‘Ventilator’ performed in the Hindi play recently staged during the Kalarang 2018. In this chat with NT BUZZ she speaks about her affection for the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and her opinion on supporting roles
SACHI NAIK | NT BUZZ
In the play ‘Kashmakash’ actor Sulabha Arya performed the role of a home maker to the protagonist husband, who is forced to impersonate a freedom fighter to earn a living. Sulabha has a peculiar way of presenting her simple characters that imprint themselves on the audience’s memories.
In the following interview she speaks about her 25 years of teaching service and how unexpectedly her acting career began.
- How far is the play ‘Kashmakash’ relevant to the present era?
According to me, it is relevant cent percent, because even today there are people who lie to earn some pennies for a square meal. They create false names or sometimes make a fake certificate to show that their freedom fighters like how it is shown in the play, so that they can have pension to run their houses. Lower-middle class people still exist in our country who are in need and they are sometimes willing to take a wrong step for money. The conditions and steps taken may differ but there are lies and frauds that still take place in the present era.
- You generally essay character roles and we have seen you in several movies. You have also done many plays for Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). On what basis do you select your roles for plays by IPTA?
Actually, I don’t measure any role by any means. In theatre, I have only been doing plays for IPTA. Only once I have acted for another group. So if it is a play by the members of IPTA, I’m ever ready to do it. I wouldn’t mind performing even if my role doesn’t have any dialogue.
- You seem to be quite attached to IPTA…
Rather than having a professional attachment to IPTA, I am emotionally attached to this association. It is my home, family, relaxation therapy; IPTA is everything to me. I always received constant support and encouragement for acting from my family and school where I used to teach. Nevertheless, IPTA needs to be credited for what they have made me today. It has made me – a Maharashtrian girl like who once upon a time couldn’t speak in Hindi. I started my journey at the age of 17 years when I did my first play for IPTA. Today I am 71. I have enjoyed witnessing IPTA grow to celebrate the completion of 25 years, 50 years, in fact it is celebrating its 75th year this year. I have worked with some renowned people here and learned so many things in this long journey. Hence, I cannot say no to any role that comes my way from IPTA.
- As you mentioned that you started your acting career at the age of 17, could you tell us more about how you started you career in acting?
As a child I used to perform small roles in schools, society functions etc. In 1963 when I was pursuing my second year at the age of 17, a senior member of IPTA had written a play, ‘Jawaabi Hamla’ based on the Chinese aggression that took place in around same time. The story was based on a life of a family who resides at the border of India and China. So Tarla Mehta played the role of their 17 year old daughter couldn’t perform for a show and thus the group started to look for a young girl to play the same role. My uncle was into IPTA and one day he noticed me and asked me if I could play Tarla’s role. I was happy and I joined the play. This is how my journey began in this theatre association.
- What kind of roles do you usually prefer?
I don’t have preferences for any roles. Fortunately, I got the chance to try out different roles in my initial years. I performed happy, sad, tragedy and comedy roles which didn’t typecast me. In those days, girls would rarely participate in dramas, so those who were already acting got more exposure to try different roles and could improvise. My ‘funda’ is if I want to perform any role, I will do it. If I feel I can’t then I will not. For IPTA however, I will never say no to perform any role.
- Having played many supporting characters, do you think that these roles are noticeable?
Yes, they are! Sometimes, supporting roles are written in such a way that they are intentionally made noticeable. Like my role in Kal Ho Na Ho. I hardly had a shoot of less than eight days yet the people recognised me with that role. Similarly, in television series Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi I performed minor roles but so many people appreciated it. Nowadays, films are created in such a way that even the small roles (duration wise) are getting noticed.
- So you believe that acting has the power to attract audience…
Certainly! It is an actor who has the power to make his or her role noticeable. It depends on how he or she presents their character to the audience. It has been 15 years that we have been doing the play ‘Kashmakash’, but the nervousness and tension still exists. Even after 15 years of continuous shows director Ramesh Talwar continues to take rehearsals before every final show so that we remember our dialogues. This is the way we can improvise on our acting skills and further help our roles to get noticed.
- Despite being a Maharashtrian, why is it that you have acted more in Hindi plays or films, than Marathi?
The first offer that I got was a Hindi play. I had got opportunities to act in Marathi plays but I couldn’t take it up. Their theatre is powerful and they continuously have shows in Maharashtra and outside the state. It was not possible for me to act in these plays. At that time, I used to teach logic and psychology in a junior college (higher secondary). I couldn’t part with my job. Recently, I have worked in a Marathi film ‘Ventilator’ and I have performed a few minor roles in Marathi industry. If I get an opportunity now, I would love to try it.