Ratna Pathak Shah was last seen as the irrepressible Maya in Sarabhai vs Sarabhai.
This year, as Ratna Pathak Shah puts it, is a ‘milestone year' of her life. She turns 50, completes 25 years of her blissful married life with actor Naseeruddin Shah and her older son Imaad turns 21. There are many reasons to smile, and justly so.
I catch up with the affable Ratna Pathak Shah at her Bandra home even before she has her morning chai.
What is keeping you busy these days?
I've been working with an NGO for the last 17 years. Today, I'm spending all the more time with it. I am also busy rehearsing for a new English play, which is being directed by Satyadev Dubey, called Antigone.
Next year, my younger son Vivaan is returning home after finishing his schooling from the Doon School, Dehradun. He has promised to do his college in Mumbai and I hope he keeps up to that. He wishes to act and direct.
Do you consciously stay away from the media.. one hardly hears about you?
(Reluctantly) No, no it is not a deliberate decision. These days, the quality of questioning is appalling. I get calls from journalists asking me some baseless questions like, which is my favourite food or wanting to take pictures of my house. I mean how is it of any interest to anyone?
I cannot understand the whole celebrity culture prevailing since the past few years. I find giving interviews a tedious task.
Your son Imaad is an actor. Do you advise him on his choice of films?
No. He is clear about what he wants to do. I believe everyone should figure out for themselves what they are good at. I see him working at his music and there is an effort. As a mother I am happy with his decision of doing music, films and acting. He has my support. I do give my advice on things.. (laughs) but it is up to him whether he wants to use it or not.
How is your relation with Heeba Shah?
(Smiles) It is like any other mother-daughter relationship. She moved out a long time ago but comes home often.
We've acted together and there is a lot of interaction, although not on a daily basis. She is learning to play the guitar, my sons are good at it (laughs). Now I want to learn to play the piano, then we can be called a musical family.
You once mentioned that you don't get film offers anytime. Has anything changed?
(Smiles) It is still the same. In India women of all ages dominate the television scene. You find women, women and more women on TV.. the strangest creatures wearing all kinds of bindis and saris.
Haven't seen you on the small screen post Sarabhai vs Sarabhai. Are you taking a sabbatical from television?
Well, not an intentional one. There were talks that a second season of Sarabhai is on its way but that didn't work out. I believe Sarabhai was one of the better shows produced on Indian television.
I have been offered other television serials but none have interested me.
The quality of writing has become very poor; the younger lot must pull their socks up and do something.
Do you get paid well in theatre?
Now theatre does pay well. Of course you can't live off with that kind of money but it is sufficient. But then again, to each his own.
Your husband Naseeruddin Shah though has created a firm foothold for himself in theatre and films. Do you wish to go the same way?
Opportunities came his way and he is consistently producing good work. In the case of Naseer, I believe he was at the right place at the right time.
Have you considered working with your sister Supriya Pathak?
(Smiles) Yes, we have thought and it would be fun to do that. But nothing of value has come out, just half bit ideas, thrown here and there, nothing concrete.
What is your mother Dina Pathak's influence on your work?
Some good and some not so good, the whole business of acting was programmed into my system by her. It was never about the clothes, jewellery and songs. I grew up watching her act.
Unfortunately when I started to realise what acting is all about; my mother was doing a lot of mediocre stuff in Hindi films.
I am afraid that I do not want to follow that league. I remember we used to tease her expression number 35. In my case I need complacency as an actor and I would rather not do any work than succumb to mediocrity.
Your theatre group Motley has kept writers like Ismat Chugtai and Manto still alive. What do you think is the future of Hindustani theatre?
It is pretty good. We have done Katha Collage, Ismat Aapa Ke Naam and Manto Ismat Haazir Hai. We have succeeded in pulling in an audience.
These are a treasure of wonderfully written short stories by a whole range of writers. Unfortunately there are not many plays written in Hindustani. Play-writing is a very rigorous skill, there are many promising writers but not with much financial support so they move on to writing for films and television.
I believe NSD must do something about it. This country doesn't appreciate intellectual rigour.