Ayesha Dharker tells BHUMIKA K.her first love is independent films but admits to being drawn to theatre, the actors’ medium
Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.
NOT JUST A PRETTY FACE Ayesha Dharker: ‘You should make a film because you have to and want it for yourself. Otherwise you’ll combust and die’
Ayesha Dharker in my eyes is this sort of modern-day wandering minstrel who gets to travel the world, stay and work in cities like New York and London and countries like Egypt for two months before catching the next plane. She gets to act in films an
d theatre, read poetry, dance on Broadway, walk the red carpet at international film festivals… Which 28-year-old wouldn’t want all that?
Yet this minstrel sees herself as being very much Indian with firm roots in Mumbai. She was in Bangalore recently for the launch and reading of her mother Imtiaz Dharker’s book “The Terrorist at My Table”.
Starting to act when she was eight, the deal with her parents was that she would get a degree, a proper education. Once she finished college, Ayesha Dharker’s travels began, with Santosh Sivan’s “The Terrorist” where she played a suicide bomber. Then came another film, then another. “Four years later I still had the same small Samsonite suitcase. I was living every two months in a different country. I couldn’t buy anything that I couldn’t carry. I used to call home and ask if they could ship me clothes to my destination. I would still have to fly economy when I travelled on my own, and the baggage limit was 20 kg. So my life was measured in 20 kilos,” she laughs. “The turning point was putting things on a shelf.”
The turning point was also when she landed the role of Rani in Andrew Loyd Webbers musical “Bombay Dreams” that first debuted in London and then played on Broadway. Today there is talk of the musical being re-launched with Shilpa Shetty having a role in it. “I haven’t heard of the re-launch but I have heard rumours that Shilpa Shetty has been asked to play a role. I’m not a fan of musicals but bizarre things keep happening to me. I did the initial casting workshop for fun and even said “no” to the role. But later it came back to me and the role had grown larger. It was fun because my own experiences found their way into the script. I modelled my character on Bette Davis and Miss Piggy (the muppet character) — one that was larger than life yet could throw a tantrum. I said I would only do six months at a time. If there is ever a call to do it again I would be interested, though I think I’ve done my bit,” she smiles that electric ebullient smile of hers.
Ayesha says her first love is independent films because it’s an exciting environment and the whole process is very focussed. Her filmography — “Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones”, “The Mistress of Spices”, “Anita and Me”, “Split Wide Open”, “City of Joy”, “The Mystic Masseur” — reads like a potpourri of the cream of the crop. But Ayesha also feels connected to theatre – which is why she was back in London now playing the Devil. “I can see why actors like theatre. It’s an actor’s medium,” she says gleefully about her role as Mephistopheles in Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus” that has been playing at London’s theatres. “I wouldn’t put myself up for playing the Devil, who is a man.” While film has so many layers between the actor and the audience, in a play the actors tell the story from beginning to end.
Two of her films to be released soon are “Outsourced” and “Loins of Punjab Presents”. “Please note it’s ‘loins’ and not ‘lions’, though I’d dread to have that word on my CV…but it’s a comedy,” she grins. Moving away from India was important, says Ayesha. “Or I would have done the same intense arty films. I love that kind of cinema but I can’t do it everyday.” She also observes how while everyone is talking of the next big Hollywood/Bollywood crossover, it’s already happened. “We’ve already broken through. And it’s interesting that today it’s being taken forward mainly by women of Indian origin — Gurinder Chadha, Meera Nair, Deepa Mehta, Meera Syal.” It’s a mistake to wait with bated breath for the one big crossover movie and it definitely won’t be an intended one, she believes. “You should make a film because you have to and want it for yourself. Otherwise you’ll combust and die.”
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