Irrepressible talent

role play

Irrepressible talent

facing challenges Mona in a still from ‘Baat Hamaari  Pakki Hai’.

Serendipity often irrevocably alters preordained lives. Mona Ambegaonkar, of the fiercely intelligent eyes and a face like a living memory, for instance, was going to study science and could not have imagined that one day she would become chief assistant director of Shekhar Kapoor’s Mr India. Or a model, writer, producer and director of documentaries, an actor working with renowned groups like Ekjut, Ansh, Fottsbarn Theatre Company in France and  the Ton Und Kirshen Theatre Company in Germany. Or that she would be seen in countless TV serials  and films like Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa, Mrityudand, White Noise, Bindhast, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani.

And it all began with an accidental meeting with Jalal Agha when she visited the sets of his Doordarshan sit-com Mr Ya Mrs. Recalls Mona fondly, “He beamed at me across the room. I beamed back and then went over to him and asked for a job. He offered me the position of his seventh or eighth assistant and the set was so exciting with inexplicable things going on, people play-acting, scampering up a 40-feet-high scaffolding that whatever apprehension I had, dissolved quickly. In a few weeks, I become the chief-assistant. Then I took over the editing too. The ride got fantastically fascinating.”

Agha was a nurturing boss, a great teacher and a father figure. Says Mona, “My sense of rhythm and understanding of visual music is his gift to me and he always pushed me towards responsibility and never let me worry about failing in my work or life.”

After Agha moved on to other things, Mona learnt that Shekhar Kapur needed an assistant. She smiles, “And so I landed up at his place at 7 am one rainy morning. I sort of moved in to the office he ran from his home and took over.” From putting together the, “scattered papers of the script to handling the optical sound,” she did everything because, “I had such a thirst for learning.”

A few years later, at Kapoor’s behest, Gautam Rajyadhyakshya shot a few pictures of Mona and she bagged a three-year modelling contract with Rexona. The roller coaster ride into the world of make-believe began then and is still on. But the most challenging  role has been to play a single mom to Diva, her five-year-old daughter.

She recalls, “After Diva’s  birth, I was homeless for a while and it took me about seven months to buy a house and get started at acting again. I was nursing her when I began to shoot for Amber-Dhara, a serial on Sony TV. Two of my plays were also on then and I left Diva at my cousin’s house in Nasik and used to commute between Nasik, Mumbai, Panchgani, Kolkata and Pune where I taught at the FTII for some time. I remember that time through a haze of incredible tiredness.”

There are no 12-hour-creches or sets where young mothers can enjoy a flexible working schedule so she says, “I sat at home, living off my meager savings. I wrote a few articles for newspapers, wrote for the Chicken Soup Series and dubbed several series for National Geographic and Animal Planet and Discovery etc.”

Finally, she signed Baat Hamaari Pakki Hai to play a character who is obsessed with the idea of marriage as the final solution for a young girl. Does she sometime find herself  rebelling against her? She explains, “I personally would rebel against it but that is not what acting is about. It is about making a character that you may find repellent to your sensibilities, your own and essaying that character believably. Also, Usha displays flashes of good sense so I am able to live with her fairly peacefully provided I don’t think about it too much and just engage with her, trusting my instincts to draw upon my knowledge of such women that I may know.”

Having won the 6th Annual Screen Videocon Award 2000 for her TV performance in Nyay, RAPA Award (Radio and Television Advertising Practitioners’ Association of India) and many other awards, Mona lets her work speak for itself rather than using the media or allowing it to use her. She sums it all up, “I am still working at every role with the same sincerity. But as a woman, I now have immense respect for all the women who raise kids, with or without help. And I value and protect my free time with great zeal.”

About choosing to be a single mother, she says, “I am instinctively, a fighter. I mentally uncurl up off the floor before the count gets to 10. I am solely responsible for my life — the good and bad in it, the tough and easy of it — and there is a grand plan laid out by nature or God, which will ultimately be fulfilled. You can either choose to be ashamed of your past and lament and hide, or you can marvel at the challenges life set you and the trips it sent you on, gather up all that and put it into a picture album and turn it into memories.”

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