Sunday, March 28, 1999
WEVE seen her quietly assured performances on stage and in television serials, We also saw her give a National-award winning performance in Mrinal Sens Hindi-language film Ek Din Achanak where she played Shabana Azmis mother, Uttara Baokar matched the awesome Azmi step by step. in real life theres nothing ostentatious about this versatile actress. No tell-tale sings of self satisfaction after having played an enviable gamut of roles that have given her a chance to play atypical characters in three diverse media. Whether on stage or the visual medium, Uttara Baokar refuses to play stereotypical parts.
Currently busy lending a multi-dimensional hue to her part as Renuka Shahanes mother-in-law in Asha Parekhs long running soap Kora Kagaz, Uttara speaks on her singleminded devotion to the performing artsand why shes so distanced from the average screen mother.
Not much is known about your life and background. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Ive been associated with the theatre for the past 30 years. In 1965 I joined the National School Of Drama in Delhi as a student. I was active on stage until 1995.
Why did it take you so long to move to the visual medium?
Earlier on, television wasnt such an "alive" medium. There was only Doordarshan. I was doing some work there but theatre remained my first love. It still is my first love. In the Repertory company there were many other good actors who were doing wonderful work. But with the passage of time television become a predominant medium. Its existence couldnt be ignored. My stage colleagues in Delhi began shifting to Mumbai. There came a time for me when I could no longer make a living out of acting on stage.
So it was an economic need that drove you from the stage to television?
Partly yes. But there was more. Television of fears a much wider scope of reaching audiences than theatre. Besides, I got to play challenging roles on television, like that of a nagging mentally un stable wife to Dr Shreeram Lagoo in DDs Upanyas. Even before Upanyas I did roles in Kavita Chowdharys Udaan and Govind Nihalanis Tamas. Both were highly appreciated.
You were fortunate enough to be approached only for strong parts. Nobody seems to consider you for those trite two-bit mothers roles?
No, and thank God for that! Ive consciously avoided doing bit roles here and there. When I went over to Mumbai to give television a try I called up my theatre friends with whom I had worked in Delhi. I told them I was open to good offers. Thats when I shifted bag and baggage to Mumbai. Actually I dont stay in Mumbai. I stay in Pune. Its a four-hours journey. I come and stay in Mumbai whenever theres shooting. Then I move back to Pune, Its as easy as that (laughs).
Was it difficult for you to establish contact with Mumbais television world?
Not really, I told directors like Govind Nihalani and Kavita Chowdhary about my wish to act in Mumbai. Thats how it started. Gradually people there came to know about the existence of an actress called Uttara Baokar (laughs).
Does television give you the same creative satisfaction as theatre?
No of course not. But theres so much work for actors to do on television. I get the opportunity to play different roles, like the one of the flippant Aunt Pinky in Banegi Apni Baat which I really enjoy doing. However the quality of the output leaves much to be desired. The serials that I did earlier on Doordarshan were of a far superior quality. Im doing just a selected few serials where Ive different, substantial roles. These keep me busy for 15 days a month. Thats all the work I need and want. I dont want to get into the multi-shift rut. To be honest Television isnt all that fascinating for me.
Do you look back fondly on your long stint on the stage in Delhi?
I honestly miss doing theatre. Serials just dont give me the same satisfaction Ive done wonderful plays and roles in theatre. That kind of involvement is missing on television. I do enjoy doing a serial occasionally, like Asha Parekhs Kora Kagaz which Im doing wont now. Though its a mother-in-laws role it has a certain dignity and dimension to it. Im enjoying playing this role.
Are you a family woman in real life?
If by family woman you mean, marriage then no. Basically Im a loner (laughs). After I finish my work I go home. I brood or read. I stay with my father. I dont much care for attending parties socialising. I worked at a hecticpace for 30 years, I was so consumed by theatre that I hardly had time for myself. Now Im making up for lost time.
Did you never think of getting married?
I did. But it never happened. I dont miss being married. Because Ive many friends of both the sexes. As for missing out on the experience of marriage and motherhood, there are so many things that one doesnt experience first hand. It doesnt make me incompleted as a humanbeing or as an actress
Irenically, your most celebrated role in the cinema is that of a mother in Mrinal Sens Ek Din Achanak. How did you get that role?
Earlier had the opportunity to work with Mrinal Sen in a serial called Kabhi Door Kabhi Paas. Thats how he came to know about my work. When he offered me the role in Ek Din Achacnak I grabbed it. Another mothers role that I did was in a award-winning Marathi film called Doghi. These are the only two notable feature film Ive done. Im not interested in doing insignificant roles in films. Every role should be worth my while Some filmmakers did offer me mothers roles in conventional commercial cinema. I refused these offers. Now Im playing Ajay Devgans mother in Govind Nhalanis Takshak. Its a small role. But I enjoy working with Govindji.
What are the other serials you are doing on television?
Two of them Kora Kagaz and Benegi Apni Baat are on air. I believe theyre going to finally end Banegi Apni Baat. At least this time they seem to be serious about ending it (laughs). Then Im playing Renuka Shahanes mother in a forthcoming serial. Its a different kind of mother.
Who are the people youve enjoyed working with in theatre and on television?
In theatre I enjoyed working with Manohar Singh and Surekha Sikri. Luckily I had the opportunity to work with them on television also. I feel comfortable working with them. We know each other so well. Then again Ive jelled with actors whom I didnt know at all. Initially it was hard to work with Vikram Gokhale in Udaan. But things fell into place soon after.
You seem to have led life on your own terms. Did your family approve of your decision to pursue a career in acting?
Oh absolutely. Initially. I wanted to become a professional singer. I learnt music for seven years. Once I discovered acting, I couldnt give any time to my music. In my early years I dreamt of joining the Marathi theatre and do both singing acting as is the tradition of stage in Maharashta. The credit for my interest in acting must go to the legendary. Ebrahim Alkazi of the National School Of Drama in Delhi. Mr Alkazi went as far as to ask my parents to let me join the NSD. I must say my early training in music has helped me tremendously in my acting.
Many of your colleges from the NSD like Naseeruddin Shah and Aneeta Kanwar migrated to Mumbai. Do you feel youve been untrue to your talents by going beyond theatre?
Untrue? I had no option. As you know Hindi theatre doesnt have commerciall potential. What was I going tad do? There was hardly a theatre group in Delhi! An actor has to act after all!
Do you have any plans of making your own serial?
I havent thought
about it seriously. But Im looking forward to doing
it some day. Id like to make something which others
arent making. As an actress Ive no reason to
complain. Ive had a really wonderful time in
theatre, and Im having a ball on television.
Im contented with life. Im happy, and
thats not acting (laughs).
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