Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal has recently figured as one of the 200 Most Inspirational Women in the World by Zerbanoo Gifford, in her Confessions to a Serial Womaniser - Secrets of the World's Inspirational Women. Kotwal kicked off the "Monologues -Eka Ebong Eka" fiesta in Kolkata recently with a solo performance of Willy Russel's play Shirley Valentine.
Excerpts from an interview:
After all these years, how do you define the term 'acting'?
Acting, I feel, is something you cannot define, something intangible, something that makes you crawl under the skin of the character and lose your identity. This is where stars and actors differ. Stars never let you forget who they are even while acting a role and actors never let you remember who they are, because they become one with the role. I would any day want to be an actor and not a star.
Since you produce, direct and act in your own plays, how do you perceive the difference between an actor and a director?
John Cappalletti, an award-winning Broadway director, who directed me in three plays in 1992 told me that a good director will be like an adult who will tell a child to hold his finger and allow the child to move around where he wants to, but will ultimately lead the child where he/she should be without the child realizing that it's the adult who has guided him to his present position. I find that the most perfect description of how a director should be. An actor is free to interpret, suggest, etc, but the director is the boss. The play is the director's interpretation of the playwright's work. If an actor is not willing to understand that then he/she had better look for work elsewhere. When I work with other directors I always trust that director's instinct and do the best that I can and should within the parameters laid out by the director.
Tell us something about your most famous play "The Vagina Monologues"
The Vagina Monologues is a play with universal relevance. It is brutal and explicit in its strength, and people, irrespective of their gender identity, are unfailingly moved by it. It is hilarious, yet, heart-rending and poetic at the same time. The tragedy is that most people think 'vagina' is a dirty word. It is not. It is the biological name given to a part of the body that belongs to half of the world's population. Every single person has spent the first few months of his/her life in close proximity to this part of the anatomy.
In essence, the vagina is the spirit of womanhood. It is this spirit that is battered, abused, raped and dehumanized in every corner of the world. The sad part is that we, as women, are ashamed to talk about it. The message in The Vagina Monologues is "silence is death." The mounting of the play was the most challenging part, because everyone from producers to actors and sponsors refused to be associated with a play such as this one only because of its name. Can you believe it?
Mahabanoo with Rudraprasad Swatilekha and Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee
Elaborate on your personal involvement with The Vagina Monologues.
I directed, produced and acted in The Vagina Monologues. It runs to packed houses and great critical acclaim in Mumbai and Delhi. In March 2004, I brought Jane Fonda, Marisa Tomei (both Oscar winners) and Eve Ensler (the playwright) to India. We performed in Delhi and Mumbai. I have donated lakhs from the proceeds to two shelters for battered and abused women in Mumbai.
How do you perceive the role of a theatre director?
My directorial debut was with a play in which I did not act. Rahul Bose, Sohrab Ardeshir and Zafar Karachiwalla were there in it and this play is very close to my heart. I produced, co-directed and acted in Shirley Valentine. I played Gladys D'Souza in Once I Was Young, Now I am Wonderful. But one of my most favourite plays is (W)Hole in the Head which I co-directed and acted in with Naseeruddin Shah. It was a hit. I also produced, directed and did the two roles of Victoria and Stella in Two Hot to Handle. Let me add that Straight Talk is a 45-minute stand-up show I do alone as the country's first stand-up comedienne.
You are not seen in films very often. Why?
I personally find the medium of film not very fulfilling. There is no scope for improvement and improvisation once the director says, "cut." In a theatre performance, each portrayal of an actor is different from the first show to the 50th. We are evolving every minute. Cinema does not give you this opportunity. I would like to add that filmmakers do not seem very interested in casting me. However, I liked the work I have done such as a role in Waris Hussein's Sixth Happiness in London, a very small role in Ismail Merchant's Cotton Mary, the role of Aurora in the BBC documentary of Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Laugh and that significant but small role in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black.
I feel really proud about having been chosen to play Mrs. Mehra in the BBC radio serial of Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy aired in London in a half an hour episodes over five hours of broadcasting time.
--IBNS (Posted on 05-09-2013)