Veteran actor Himani Shivpuri, who is a known face across Indian cinema and theatre, and has acted in classics like 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai' and 'Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge', says she used to "live, breathe and just do theatre" while she was a student at the National School of Drama (NSD).These days, Shivpuri is being seen in Zee Theatre's teleplay 'Hamidabai Ki Kothi', which is a period drama. She plays Hamidabai, a spirited artist of the dying Kothi tradition, determined to not let the demands of popular culture corrupt her establishment despite societal and financial pressure. Excerpts from her IANSlife interview:
Q: How do you get to know and then get into any character? From script to stage/screen, what's your process like?
A: To get into any character the process is the same whether it is a stage or screen. The detailing that I follow is I gather all the information from the script or with the discussion I do in detail with the director while on the sets to understand the characteristics of the role that I will be playing. That's how one gets into the character but the most important part I feel is to go through the script thoroughly.
Q: You're one of the strongest pillars of Indian acting. Would you say there's any change in the field of acting from when you started?
A: I don't think there's any difference. There are two kinds - good or bad acting. For good acting you need to put in some effort, be spontaneous, and work hard to appear effortless and bad acting you don't need any effort, you can be as bad as you like.
Q: Please tell us about your NSD days.
A: The NSD days were magic. I used to live, breathe and just do theatre, from day to night we used to attend different classes. We were part of the production work - from backstage to acting. If you are backstage, you have to take care of everything from costumes to lighting. There used to be directors from all over the world and I am lucky that I got the chance to work with some of the finest directors. My first production was with BV Karanth where I was part of Vidya Sunder, then I did some acting workshops with M. K.Raina who did 'Cherry or Chirp' which made me part of stylized musical to totally realistic plays. We used to visit galleries to watch beautiful art and some nights were spent listening to the Jugalbandi of legendary Zakir Hussain, Allah Rakha Khan, and Ustad Vilayat Khan. It was a totally artistic atmosphere and had a beautiful experience. I lived a very bohemian life, totally devoted to theatre.
Q: Your thoughts on theatre going digital.
A: As far as theatre going digital is concerned, I feel it is a good move. Especially in this current situation, it is very tough for theatre to survive. I am glad that this concept has come up. I have done some wonderful plays but there are no records of those plays except for some brochures or photos. Sometimes even the photographs are destroyed. I remember once there was a fire, beautiful photos of our plays were burnt. With the digital medium, there is a record of plays. Though I prefer the live performance that I use to do in front of a live audience because that gives me the thrill to perform, the response of the live audience is amazing. However, looking at the current situation I feel it is a great alternative as people are not stepping out from their home so one can enjoy watching all the teleplays sitting at home.
Q: Please tell us about your character in Zee Theatre's 'Hamidabai Ki Kothi'? How did you research?
A: In 'Hamidabai', I play the character of a woman who is totally devoted to art and gaayki. The most important part of her life is her Ustad who is his guru. In the whole Indian tradition, the guru shishya parampara is very important. She is totally devoted to her guru and the tradition she follows - gaayki. And while times are changing, she refuses to change and follow the new tradition of recordings. She feels it's a sin because the voice is a gift of God and you cannot record it, you are not being true to your art. This is what she feels for her character. Her contemporaries are compromising but she refuses to compromise and sticks to her principles. It's a very beautiful idealistic character going through difficult situations in life and trying to survive in these difficult times.
As far as the research is concerned, Vijaya bai was a great help when she told me the story of how the playwright had actually met this character while he was traveling on a train journey. The way she described the character and I also did a lot of research on my own through reading about these people and watching the earlier plays. So, to do Hamidabai was more to work with my director Vijaya Mehta and I remember how she described the character when we met in her house and I tried to absorb whatever she was telling me which really helped me shape this character.
Q: What were your key learnings during the lockdown? Did you discover anything about yourself?
A: What I discovered about myself is I loved being with myself because I hardly used to get time for myself while I was shooting. During the lockdown, I did yoga, I learned to meditate and I learned the Sudarshan Kriya which I've been wanting to do for a long time- so in all it was very fruitful. I wrote a few poems, I tried to write some of my memoirs and figured that I'm a very lazy writer but I am glad that I got time to spend with myself. I watched very good films, some nice TV shows on the OTT platform and I thoroughly enjoyed being with my family and my dog Arya.