This monsoon, the intriguing servant girl from Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding will get back on a Mumbai stage after seven years.
Actor Tillotama Shome, who left to study theatre at the New York University in 2004, is gearing up to play Mrs Elvstead in The Company Theatre’s production of Hedda Gabler.
“After Monsoon Wedding I got a lot of offers, but they were similar roles — that of a servant,” said Shome. “I wanted to learn and make mistakes again, which is why even though people said it was suicidal, I left to do my MA.”
Shome specialised in drama therapy and then got herself a teaching job at the City University of New York. She also joined a group called The Creative Arts Team.
She went to schools and homes where she worked with battered women, patients with mental disorders and even went into high security prisons to work with inmates.
“New York is one of the greatest cities to live in and my job was very humbling,” she said, after a gruelling practice session. “But the people I worked with only did that kind of work because it was their livelihood, and they weren’t commercially successful. That’s not how I wanted to be and I told myself, that the minute I don’t enjoy this anymore, I would quit.”
Back to Bollywood
In 2008, when Shome visited India, she saw a sea of change in the film industry. She returned to New York to serve a month’s notice and is now back in Mumbai as a full-time actor. Since then, she has worked on five different projects including an Australian film, The Waiting City, starring Radha Mitchell. She has also done her first “Bollywood dance; not an item number,” in an untitled feature directed by Owais Hussain, MF Hussain’s son.
Now, Hedda Gabbler is what she has chosen to “torture herself” with.
“The play is set in a span of 36 hours. The emotions are very hard to master when on stage,” she said. “But I’ve always liked to jump over walls that are too high even at the risk of skinning my knees.”
The plot: Hedda Gabler was written by Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen in 1890. It revolves around Hedda Tesman aka Gabler, who has just returned from her honeymoon and is already bored of her husband, George, who will do anything to please her. She begins plotting against her husband’s rival and her one-time admirer, Eilert Lovborg, while his protégé, Mrs Elvstead, tries to help him, but fails. Enigmatic, manipulative and headstrong, Hedda seals Lovborg’s fate and then her own, in a style that has often made critics refer to her as the ‘female Hamlet.’