'Mahesh Bhatt put his foot down during Ghulam and did not allow Aamir Khan to dictate a particular moment in my performance.'
'He just ignored Aamir's objection to something I did in a shot we had together.'
Mita Vashisht, one of India's finest actors, makes her OTT debut in Your Honor.
"Off and on, over the last few years, I would pause and do a hisaab-kitaab of my screen roles, and I was aware that I had done nothing worthwhile in the last 10 years; nothing that did any justice to my talent," Mita tells Subhash K Jha. The first of a two-part interview:
What made you take up this role in Your Honor?
You said it actually, 'meaty and multi-shaded role'.
Yes, the cop Kiran Sekhon's role is that.
It has plenty of possibilities and many more that I knew I would find as I went along, shooting for it.
Where were you all these years? Why would an actor of your calibre go missing for so long?
I was around, but not getting anything that would put me out there, except perhaps in the theatre.
Roles in films like Rahasya, Mujhse Fraandship Karoge and some roles on TV.
Off and on, over the last few years, I would pause and do a hisaab-kitaab of my screen roles, and I was aware that I had done nothing worthwhile in the last 10 years; nothing that did any justice to my talent.
Even though I would give each role my best, and even if there was a financial crunch, I would still turn down roles that I knew would simply weary my soul and mind.
I reminded myself of what I had proclaimed at the peak of my success that I would rather take up a job to repair cars in a garage than to do acting work that did not excite me.
Your early performances in Mani Kaul's Siddeshwari, Kumar Shahani's Khayal Gatha and Kasba are still vivid in my mind.
I am not meant for supporting roles.
I've always been offered and played lead from day one, apart from the fact that I feel at home in lead roles -- the lead actor or actress's attitude kind of creates an atmosphere for the entire unit.
When I am in the lead, I know the atmosphere is very easy on sets because I am not interested in anything except performance and the better my co-actor, the better my performance.
The actor's arena is a sacred space for me.
I get uneasy when I see it become a space of 'stardom' and its allied hierarchies.
The industry really protects its lead players, especially when stars are in the lead.
Tell me about your experiences.
I know if I'm not in a lead, my best moments will be chopped off -- Govind Nihalani's Drishti and a few other films being the exception where the director is very sure and sensitive.
Even Mahesh Bhatt put his foot down during Ghulam and did not allow Aamir Khan to dictate a particular moment in my performance.
He just ignored Aamir's objection to something I did in a shot we had together by saying, 'Ya ya I saw it, I don't know what she did, but it was beautiful. Okay next shot,' and he simply walked off to set up the next shot.
Directors like these make you feel 'Yes, there is a God who protects acting moments.'
But it is not always about protecting performances, it is sometimes about conventional thinking on the part of the director and editor. Like sad means tears, happy means laughter...
So if I laughed what could be termed a sad, ironic, laugh and the director says but you can't laugh, you're sad, I know that moment has already gone into the dustbin.
The lack of depth in the process of film-making put you off?
Some three four years ago, I found myself telling God, 'Listen dear God, if you have blessed me with a talent that I felt keenly enough as a 19 year old to make it my life path and if it is indeed phenomenal as everyone says, it's your responsibility to give me the roles.'
So leave it to Him.
You do what you have to do.
Like maybe, I needed to find joy without the help of success, maybe I needed to figure out how to celebrate other people's success, and be really peaceful in a deep way.
The actor's being is meant to travel the spiritual path of the Self -- it is the only way you can continue to be an actor.
Patience, acceptance, giving up the ego, and learning to grow and grow and grow.
So when I would tell people not to cast me in lesser roles, you know a director or producer will say, 'I know the role is not great but you will make it great. That is why we want you.'
Such stupid logic.
I know now (from years of experience) that it's going to be something we will both regret.
I tell them unless it has real meat, don't cast me because later you will be spending your time on the editing table chopping away at this role to ensure it is not overpowering. So it's not a win-win for either of us.
So the roles coming your way didn't excite you?
I have been with my solo theatre performance Lal Ded in its 16th year now. I go on a bare stage and present nine characters in the course of the narrative.
I played the lead in another play Agnipankh, which is available on Tata Sky Zee theatre.
Years before that, I acted in August Osage County.
Theatre has given me some great evenings on stage and plenty of 'no idle time'.
The year before last was a sudden time of good work and accolades.
People from the high end law fraternity complimented me for getting them spot on in Criminal Justice.
'How did you crack it so well? Did you go and observe Indira Jaising in court' they asked.
Then there is an art house film Kasai, in which I play the lead. That has been garnering a few acting awards for me.
And now, the Web series Your Honor.
From Siddheshwari and Kasba to Your Honor, it has been quite a journey for you. Do you look back with pride and satisfaction?
Ah yes! The golden years of those fabulous films.
I dwelt for a long time in sheer nostalgia of that time of magic, of being a young actress and coveted and so very, very celebrated... having the best of films and TV roles with such varied and brilliant directors, and the joy of performance -- it was so profound and yet so simple.
I was truly blessed.
Much later, in my 'nothing great happening phase', I got conned into doing a really stupid role in a really stupid commercial film -- an Amitabh Bachchan starrer called Aladin because Sujoy Ghosh, the director, told me how much he had loved Siddheshwari and me in it.
I couldn't believe the crap I had landed myself in once shooting began.
He went on to make some celebrated film with Vidya Balan, but I would still dunk him in the sea if I could.
My performances being celebrated is the responsibility I have to nurture and do justice to the gift that God gave me.
He could have made me a scientist, but chose to make me an actress.