Updated: June 4, 2020 8:36:18 am
Actor Mita Vasisht has been associated with projects across languages. Her work includes films with some of the biggest names in the Indian film industry like Govind Nihalani, Mani Kaul, Priyadarshan and Mani Ratnam, apart from several television and theatre outings.
But how did it all begin? Here’s the story behind Mita’s debut movie Vaar Vaar Vaari, helmed by ace filmmaker Kumar Shahani:
1. What was your first acting project? How did the project come to you?
My first film was a 30-minute diploma film titled Vaar Vaar Vaari for an editing student at FTII. She had invited Kumar Shahani to direct the movie. So it was almost like a master filmmaker taking a master class. I was in my last week of National School of Drama. Our girls’ hostel was a beautiful courtyard, and there was a row of rooms that used to be the stables of the Maharaja of Bhagalpur. It was a very quaint place. I remember one morning I was washing my face at one of the washbasins and this girl watched me for some time. She came and said, ‘I’m Nandini Bedi. You mind if I take a picture?’ She introduced herself as an editing student from FTII. Nandini said she was doing her final diploma film and Kumar Shahani was going to direct it. She further said, ‘I’ll be giving these photographs to him. He’ll be coming down to Delhi for a play which he has also directed. So maybe you can meet him at that time.’ There was no script given to me. All I was told was that he’s a great director, and it’s the lead role. Nandini clicked my photos and went away.
After my final viva, one day the dean of our hostel told me there was a show, directed by Kumar Shahani, happening at Kamani theatre, and they needed someone to do the make-up of the actress. They were paying Rs 500. It was crazy because I was supposed to meet him. And here I was being offered a job in his play. This is in 1987. So I jumped at the opportunity for two reasons, one because theatre was my passion, two, I thought this was the chance to actually observe the director at work. The same day, I was also getting a Bajaj scooter ad which would pay me Rs 30,000, against that Rs 500. But I refused the ad. I never mentioned to Kumar that I am the actress who you are supposed to meet. I was quietly observing how he worked. At a party after the play, Kumar told me, ‘Mita I am making a film, and I would like you to play the lead. I was supposed to meet an actress, but I don’t think I will meet her now. I am gonna cast you instead.’ So I got chosen twice for the same role!
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My very first take on film. Just graduated from NSD Delhi. August 1987 'Var Var Vari'an FTII (Pune) editing diploma film for editing student Nandini Bedi. Directed by the iconic film maker Kumar Shahani. It was the beginning of all the films for me….with Mani Kaul, Govind Nihalani and with Kumar Shahani himself (Var Var Vari was followed by Khayal Gatha and Kasba) #worldcinema #thefilmsofkumarshahani #ftiidiploma #actorslife #actressmitavasisht
2. What do you remember of your first day on set?
I took a train to Pune, FTII. I went straight to meet Nandini who told me everyone was waiting to meet ‘the lead actress’ from NSD. The first person I meet was Rajat Kapoor. He was in the second year of direction and was part of the assistants on the film. So this movie was a huge thing at FTII, and it somehow made me nervous. Everyone was only talking cinema there using words I did not understand. I wanted to talk about acting, but no one was talking about that. I was completely out of my depth over there. All I knew was everyone’s been waiting for me, but they had no idea what I will do.
The story was about a woman who is a scientist and harnesses river water. It was kind of a mythical film. It showed the intellectual and rational power of a woman, but in her relationship with a man, she is completely vulnerable to the point that she doesn’t know where she stands emotionally. Will her best friend betray her or not? The best friend carries the communication between her and the lover who is across the river. I had no idea how to deal with the script. When I asked who my lover was, everyone smiled at me, and I realised I have said something stupid because you do not ask such questions like American actors. Kumar said, ‘Your lover is a black swan.’ I hid my nervousness from everyone and stopped asking questions. My first shot was with FTII professor GS Chani who is also a theatre actor. He was playing some sort of a wandering saint.
3. Were you nervous? How many retakes did you take?
In Pune, there are a lot of bridges and ghats leading to the river, and there are small temples around. So my first shot was at a ghat on which the makers placed a huge mirror. I had to climb the steps and walk to the mirror. When my character is in her private space, she is sensuous. So all this was supposed to be in that walk. The line that I heard was, ‘Mita, it should be a one-take okay shot because the raw stock is very limited.’ So I had to make sure I don’t mess it up. To make things worse, there was a crowd of 100 people hanging over the bridge and hooting. That’s where my theatre training came in handy. I thought let me forget about everybody and think that only I and the camera exist. That shot went really well, and Kumar actually ran up the steps and hugged me. He was so happy. People said this is the first time an actor has understood what Kumar actually wants.
I did not know the shooting traditions. I used to look into the camera. One day, I sat on a light box, and I had this camera attendant scold me. Then, I realised this is all sacred stuff. I peeped into the glass of camera once to check my make-up. I had never seen a track-trolley. So I was like a kid who was hanging around the set, looking and touching all the equipment as if they were toys.
4. How was the rapport with your co-stars when you got to meet or work with them again?
Professor GS Chani is in Chandigarh now. Nandini is now in Holland. We are very much in touch. It’s a kind of bonding that won’t go away. I did three films with Kumar Shahani. It was a different time. The assistant directors were not glorified helpers like today. They were into filmmaking themselves. The raw stock was precious like liquid gold.
5. If given a chance to go back to your debut role, what would you like to change or do better?
I think I was totally brilliant. And I don’t know if I will be able to recreate that kind of brilliance today. One was so uncorrupted by any ideas of name, fame or glory.
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6. One film or role that inspired you to become an actor?
We used to watch a lot of world cinema and Hindi films. But I had not thought that I would become an actress. Cinema just came into my life. I remember I used to be very moved by films like Swami, Baseraa, Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se. Then later, we saw Arth, Lahoo Ke Do Rang and Mahesh Bhatt films. I also used to love the dreamy song and dance stuff. For me, it was all about romance, beauty. Frankly speaking, I don’t like ugly films which are called close to life. Realism should cleanse the soul. For me, cinema is very sacred. It is one of the highest art forms because it combines everything.
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