That first time you stood in the wings waiting for the third bell or tensely chewed your nails watching the audience file into the theatre; that first sound of applause; that first time when an industry stalwart came backstage and shook your hand; that first tour to another city with your team; that first time you actually got paid for your work….these precious moments and many more stay etched in your memory forever. The masti, the friendships, the sudden feeling of self-worth as if you have finally arrived. That creative high of your first professional experience.
Thespo understands this better than anyone. For they have, over the years, given artists and theatre makers that final push from where so many have deep dived into the profession. So, what better way to celebrate their 22 years than a series of 22 heart-warming and nostalgic chapters from the life stories of a range of theatre professionals… handpicked by Thespo from across the Indian theatre spectrum.
The First Chapter asks each of them a very simple question – “Tell us about your first ever professional theatre experience?” From there unravel stories of joy and inspiration, struggles and triumphs. And that one thing that ties them all, young and old, together – the incredibly contagious spirit of theatre.
Ft. MITHILA PALKAR
“I wanted to do anything and everything related to theatre”
Mithila Palkar is no stranger to the world of the stage and the screen in India. She is one of the most popular actors of our generation. She has starred in films like Muramba, Karwaan, Chopsticks and Tribhanga while playing leading roles in several OTT series such as Little Things and Girl in the City. Her theatre credits include Tunni Ki Kahani and Aaj Rang Hai with Aarambh and Dekh Behen with Akvarious Productions.
Beyond excited to find out the theatre journey that Mithila undertook, I jumped in with…
What was your first ever professional theatre experience?
“It was in 2015, when I stepped in for Trisha Kale as Tunni in Tunni Ki Kahani, a play produced by Aarambh. It’s a children’s musical. The funny story is that when I was the Festival Director of Thespo along with Saatvika (Kantamneni), the parent company, QTP Entertainment, had a rule that all of us in the Thespo team must go and watch plays together. You know, like an office group activity. I remember after the show, Toral (Shah) told me how this was my dream role, as the character enjoyed all the things I did… dancing, singing and acting on stage!
Cut to two years later and Purva (Naresh) and Gopal (Dutt) phoned me to ask if I would step in for Trisha and play Tunni. I just knew this was completely fated.”
What excited you most about the play?
“We travelled with the play. This was my first tour and I remember we were in a festival… I can’t recall the name…but the tour began in Ahmedabad and moved into several cities in Rajasthan. I think the first time we got some down time was right at the end, when we were in Udaipur. It was one of the most enriching experiences…you know what I mean…travelling with a play, the cast and crew and performing in the ‘play-of-my-dreams’, as Toral would put it.”
Was this an original script or was it adapted?
“So, Gopal Dutt wrote and directed this play. He’d often work with Purva on Aarambh plays. I remember working mostly with Gopal.”
You must have jumped at the opportunity to play the part?
“I wish! I was just an observer for the first couple of rehearsals. I clearly remember being really upset because another project was supposed to start around the same time. I even remember secretly wishing for the other project to get cancelled so I could do this one. And as luck would have it, the other project did get rescheduled and I became Tunni in 2015!”
When did you know that acting was your calling?
“It happened soon after Thespo 15. This was in 2013, I was Festival Director. I had just finished this hectic year and took some time off to travel. When I came back, I started auditioning for the first time. This was when my love affair with theatre as an actor started. I was always enthused about the theatre and being a part of it, but the love of acting started post T15 with Tunni.”
Would you say Tunni Ki Kahani was your first paid acting job?
“I think so. Actually, yes! I was working for QTP full-time, managing the festival and other company work, but not acting. My first paid acting job was this play.”
What was your first paid job as a non-actor?
“Hands down Thespo… actually no! I’m forgetting the play…I’ll tell you what it was…it was called In The Cat House produced by Le Chaiym Theatre…yes, definitely. Himanshu (Sitlani) and Kashin (Shetty) were running Le Chaiym and the play featured Dilshad (Khurana), Shweta (Tripathi) and Abhishek (Saha). I was a production assistant for the play.
It was directed by Sananda (Mukhopadhyaya) and I remember at the end of the whole process, she came and gave me a white envelope with some money in it, for helping out with the production.”
I just have to ask. Do you have any stories from this play?
“I have two actually.
First, Nishna Mehta, an absolute enthu cutlet, who introduced me to Himanshu and the rest of the gang, met me in the strangest of places. Summer of 2012 we went on a trek. It was a couple of us school friends and I remember at the end of the trek Nishna added us to her social media profile. I kept seeing how active she was in the theatre and following through with my friends’ advice, I spoke to her. Before I knew it, I was working as a production assistant for In The Cat House.
Second, surprisingly again, Nishna told me that Quasar (Thakore-Padamsee) was conducting auditions for the play So Many Socks. I auditioned for it, but unfortunately didn’t get cast. BUT, outside the audition space I met Varrunn (Bangera). He was running Thespo that year and asked if I’d like to volunteer. At that point, I wanted to do everything and anything related to theatre, because it was exactly where I wanted to be.
You could say that this was the beginning of my theatre journey. That’s the overarching story.”
Now that you’ve had so much experience with screen acting, has that changed your relationship with the theatre?
“I’ve always thought of both mediums as very different. Especially from the point of view of an actor. For me, in the theatre your actions are quite large, while on camera they are fairly intimate. It’s actually one of the most common notes that I get when I’m performing live. I’ve had a lot of screen experience now and obviously that trains you in a certain way…it’s a significant shift when you’re back in the theatre. I mean, think about it, on stage you won’t be doing your own thing in a corner now, will you? It won’t be seen. The camera on the other hand picks up the slightest of movements.
To answer your question. Theatre will always be my first love. It’s the most raw and truthful of mediums. It is what it is. You’ve got the stage, the crowd and your ability to present the same thing differently each night.
The camera did spoil me a little though, I won’t lie. It’s why I keep finding myself back on stage to witness again why I love storytelling so much. Nothing in my opinion teaches you humility and humanity better than theatre. I mean, if you’ve been backstage lugging sets at an ungodly hour, no amount of fame or success will make you take things for granted. Having done production work, you as a person will know that it takes much more than just showing your face to the camera to pull off a successful show.”
2. Your most nervous moment in the theatre?
“My fondest memory and most nervous memories of ALL TIME are also my fondest and most nervous memories in the theatre. Coincidentally, the memories are intertwined as well.
The first time I went on stage was when I was the emcee for the Thespo finals. Quasar had given me a general idea of things to say. The rest was left to me. You know how much I adore and respect Quasar. I just didn’t want to disappoint him. Even today, I just want to make him proud. Anyway, I remember going up on stage and doing something that massively disappointed him.
The next day, he took me into the green room and said he’d rehearse my lines with me word by word. My mind was racing to the most horrible conclusions. I thought he must hate me! I knew he was aware of my fascination for acting and I was sure he was letting me emcee just to help me break out of my shell…and what had I done? I had gone and tanked it. I kept thinking he didn’t like the way I spoke or the way I moved, but to my surprise he, very patiently, made me repeat everything again and again. He helped me learn my bits so that I didn’t just speak them, but presented them.
In the end, the accolades for my emcee performance were enough for me to redeem myself. Even Arghya (Lahiri) came and congratulated me. I was so overwhelmed. Here were two people whom I absolutely loved and adored being appreciative of my work.”
As you were asking me these questions, I was literally reliving these memories in real time. It definitely helped that he had trusted me to emcee on my last offline Thespo and had spent the better part of my last day rehearsing with Q in the green room. The resemblances are uncanny!
With that could you tell me something unique that you do before a show or show day?
“Nothing special really. It depends largely on the group that I’m working with but I really enjoy the process of a huddle. The sharing of energy and the exchange of looks just before a show really gets me going in the best possible way.”
“Just believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself nobody will have faith in you. Just do that and dream out loud!”