After playing a string of assertive mothers, Ratna Pathak Shah will be seen as a fake mother in Hum Do Hamare Do. Pathak Shah plays Dipti Kashyap, who is hired along with Purushottam Mishra (Paresh Rawal) to act as the parents of Dhruv (Rajkummar Rao) at his wedding with Aanya (Kriti Sanon). Abhishek Jain’s comedy will be streamed on Disney+ Hotstar on October 29.
Pathak Shah and Rawal go way back as friends and colleagues in Gujarati theatre. “I saw Paresh on stage for the first time in the Gujarati play Tokhar, an adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s Equus,” Pathak Shah told Scroll.in. “It was a sensational production, and I was blown away by his abilities. He was like no other Gujarati actor in no other Gujarati play like that.”
They have shared the stage since then. They played ex-lovers in the Hindi film Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota (2006), directed by Pathak Shah’s husband, Naseeruddin Shah.
“Paresh was one of the reasons I was happy to star in Hum Do Hamare Do as I wanted to work with him again,” Pathak Shah said.
Pathak Shah was among 600 theatre artists who urged citizens to vote against the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2019. Rawal is a BJP member and former Member of Parliament. Their political differences do not come in the way of their camaraderie, Pathak Shah said.
“We discuss politics, perhaps, not straight out, but we do discuss the state of the world, about which we have different views,” she added. “But isn’t that what educated people should do? Talk, discuss, and hopefully change each other in some form?”
Pathak Shah’s film career began with roles in arthouse productions in the 1980s, including Mandi (1983) and Mirch Masala (1988). In the following decade, her focus shifted to comedic work on television.
“No one was casting me in films, and whatever interesting work I got, I took,” Pathak Shah. “Everyone who was out of NSD thought of doing dramatic roles, but it was comedy that showed me a different way to look at acting. It rescued me from becoming a boring actor.”
Pathak Shah appeared in a string of sitcoms, including Idhar Udhar, Filmi Chakkar and Tara, until she found her “breakthrough role” in Sarabhai vs Sarabhai. Between 2004 and 2006 and a second season in 2017, Pathak Shah hilariously played the pretentious and snooty Maya Sarabhai.
She was offered the role by the show’s writer Aatish Kapadia and producer Jamnadas Majethia, who had shaken up commercial Gujarati theatre “which had been stuck in a melodramatic groove for a long time,” she said.
The show flopped in its initial run, but gained cult status over the years through reruns on television. “Its failure cemented the idea that something really good has no place on television,” Pathak Shah observed. “I was really puzzled as people I thought would be interested were not bothered.”
Pathak Shah’s rising popularity on television coincided with her feature role as the hero’s hands-on mother in the hit comedy Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na (2008). Her scenes of banter with her revivified late husband (Naseeruddin Shah) were among the highlights. The couple will be seen together in a film to be shot and directed by Ranjan Palit.
Pathak Shah’s second innings includes Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (2012), Khoobsurat (2014), Kapoor & Sons (2016) and Thappad (2020). Some of the posh, domineering matriarchs she has played have echoes of Maya Sarabhai.
“I am a bossy person so I guess that comes across strongly,” Pathak Shah said. “It’s also a case of the desire of writers to slot you in a particular space. But I do feel women have become assertive in different ways.”
Among her most noteworthy roles is in Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017), in which her character Usha lusts for a younger swimming coach. The role required her to pleasure herself, among other things.
“I had no qualms or inhibitions about that part,” 64-year-old Pathak Shah said. “It was an opportunity I could not afford to miss as I knew it would push me in a direction I hadn’t explored before. It was something that came at the right time in the right way.”
In her four-decade-long career, theatre has been the “seminal discovery” for the National School of Drama graduate. “Theatre gave me the opportunity to develop myself as an actor as how else will you learn acting if not by acting regularly?”
The biggest boon of theatre is that no performance can ever be considered final, she said.
“Every show is a new show, every performance is different,” Pathak Shah added. “It makes you realise that acting is all about responding to what’s happening around you, always being on your toes, and leaving yourself open to what’s happening.”
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