Ratna Pathak: Each actor has his or her own process..

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New Delhi, March 13 -- Most actors start off fairly awkward on stage. It takes them a long time to figure out how to know what to do," notes actor Ratna Pathak Shah. 

But that hardly seems to have kept the veteran from giving quite a few flawless performances, in a career spanning four decades. Shah was in the Capital to perform Ismat Apa Ke Naam - a play on the life of the revolutionary feminist writer Ismat Chughtai - as part of Delhi Theatre Festival. 

"Each actor has his or her own process, but I think the discoveries are fairly similar - how do you make conversation sound like a conversation, how do you make a relationship interesting, and therefore, help the audience understand it. And if they are helped along by teachers or good directors, so much the better. I was among the lucky ones; I was helped," says Shah, who started out with films such as Mandi (1983) and Mirch Masala (1987). 

The actor says that she took up the play not just because it dealt with how women are treated in society, but because it helped her discover "her abilities as an actor". 

"She (Ismat Chughtai) is interested in humans, the manwoman relationship, and isn't looking at it with rose-coloured spectacles," Shah explains. Our conversation veers towards the Capital's relationship with theatre. 

"Delhi hasn't been very inviting for the last few years, for some reason," Shah says, laughing. "But I think it has an audience interested in theatre. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a happy relationship again with Delhi and Gurgaon," says Shah, who last visited Gurgaon with the series Bhishmotsav, a series of Hindi plays adapted from Bhisham Sahni's stories. 

From the sitcom Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, romcoms such as Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Naa (2008), and the black comedy Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016), to her recent offering on the web and this play, Shah has juggled platforms and genres with consummate ease. 

On a recent visit to Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, for a talk, Shah had remarked how Hindi films have struggled with the idea of gender. 

"Our society has a long way to go. So many people say, 'Ab ye nahin hota', 'Ye sab kya purani baatein karte rehte ho,' 'Arey these women are becoming bra-burning feminists'. This kind of puerile conversation, which was happening when I was in college, is still going on. But things are changing, with so many women around us in every field. It will take time, but I never lose hope," she says.