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Lata Kutty has a fun and quirky side, something I hadn’t explored on screen: Shalini Vatsa

Once a reluctant film actor, Shalini Vatsa explored her comic potential with Ludo this year and found acclaim

Written by Alaka Sahani | New Delhi | Updated: December 21, 2020 10:21:40 am
Shalini Vatsa, eye 2020, sunday eyeA decade since her first film, Vatsa still periodically asks herself whether she is enjoying what she does.

First Role: In Class IX, Shalini Vatsa acted in Yahan Bande Saste Milte Hain, staged at Patna’s Kalidas Rangalaya

Standout Act: Playing nurse Lata Kutty in Ludo on Netflix

Shalini Vatsa’s journey charted its own course. Her Lata Kutty, who transforms from a no-nonsense nurse into gangster Sattu’s (Pankaj Tripathi) doting lover in Anurag Basu’s Ludo (released in November), has “a fun and quirky side”. She plays Lata Kutty with great comic flair, fitting into Ludo’s whimsical world effortlessly. This character “was something I hadn’t explored on screen so far” and was “very different from my previous strong-women roles in Sacred Games (2018-19) and Gurgaon (2016),” says the actor who had been uncertain about a film career for years. Her first film role, as Dhaniya (in Peepli [Live], 2010), was to have been her last. Then she landed a small but significant role as domestic worker Gauri in Shanghai (2012). But her desire to continue acting in movies developed only after the Hansal Mehta-directed Shahid (2012), in which she played Prosecutor Tambe. “People talk of having a wish list. Even without having one, I’ve worked with the directors who would have featured on my list,” she says.

Vatsa grew up in a culturally-rich environment in Patna. Her parents taught at Patna University and had friends who were theatre artistes. “Since they didn’t know where to leave their naughty child, they would carry me to rehearsals and shows,” recalls Vatsa. Even though she would act on stage in school, turned theatre only after moving to Delhi to study political science at Delhi University’s Indraprastha College, and later, at Jawaharlal Nehru University. In 1997, she joined Barry John’s Theatre Action Group, and, later, with Habib Tanvir’s Naya Theatre, acted in plays like Zahreeli Hawa, Charandas Chor, Agra Bazar, and Kamdev Ka Apna Basant Ritu Ka Sapna (an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Even after moving to Mumbai with her actor-husband Himanshu Tyagi in 2004, Vatsa continued to work with John and Tanvir.

A decade since her first film, Vatsa still periodically asks herself whether she is enjoying what she does. “I love acting. I don’t think such expressions like ‘liberating’ and ‘therapeutic’ can explain my feelings fully. However, I’m very clear that a role should challenge me and help me grow as an artiste,” says Vatsa, who has spent the lockdown revisiting classics in literature and discovering Tamil writer Ambai’s work.

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