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Journalism of Courage

Actor with character

Surekha Sikri was an exceptional performer who filled and deepened every role she played

Outside inA public school teacher from the rural north of Peru, Pedro Castillo has never held public office.

There is a story about Surekha Sikri from 1974 when Ebrahim Alkazi cast her as the lead actor in Look Back in Anger. Sikri transformed into Alison Porter, a character torn between two worlds, so much so that she could not come on stage to take a bow after the play ended. For Sikri, who passed away on Friday aged 75, acting went beyond delivering dialogues and action.

From the class of 1968 at the National School of Drama, and trained by Alkazi himself, Sikri cut her teeth on plays such as The Trojan Women (Euripides) and Anton Chekov’s Three Sisters. NSD in the 1960s was a space where a budding performer could watch a play by the visiting Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow, attend art exhibitions and nurture an all-around interest in culture from across the world. Sikri joined the NSD Repertory Company in 1973 and was directed by Alkazi, Shanta Gandhi, Prasanna, MK Raina, as well as foreign directors such as Richard Schechner and Fritz Bennewitz.

Sikri could flesh out a character not only for the stage and screen but also for TV, a hurried medium marked by formulaic scripts and performances. In Balika Vadhu, for instance, she created the inner life of a Rajasthani matriarch, Dadi sa, going deep, on the way picking up an accent. The outcome was one of the strongest portrayals of a woman on the small screen. On the big screen, she was a part of parallel cinema, featuring in films such as Govind Nihalani’s Tamas and Shyam Benegal’s Mammo, which won her National Film Awards. She was going strong in 2018, when Badhai Ho was released, for which Sikri won a third National Award for her portrayal of a cranky grandmother. At NSD, Sikri had once heard Bennewitz ask actors to “squeeze” a performance like a lemon to the last drop. She did that, till the end.

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First published on: 17-07-2021 at 03:40 IST
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