Theatre will always be my first love: Ira Dubey

The television and theatre artiste talks about how she used her imagination to get into the character of Devika Rani. The play will be staged in the city today

Ira Dubey

My first tryst with theatre was when I was two years old, when I watched my mother on stage in a show called ‘Agnes of God’, a play that she was doing with Barry John. I don’t remember her role but she had a frightening part in it. I couldn’t understand why my mother looked so terrifying and why she was behaving very strangely, and why she was on stage. I was with my father then. There is something very strong about that memory.

As a child, I was taken to Kamani auditorium in Delhi quite often. Kamani, as a place, brings back a ton of memories.

Later, when I was all of five years, I played the baby elephant in ‘Jungle Book.’ In pre-school, I played Sita. And this guy, who was playing Lakshman wouldn’t leave my side. He was constantly following me around even on the stage. We were three years old and I think he had a crush on me.

My mother sister Lushin Dubey ran a children’s theatre company called Kid’s World and I grew up acting a lot with them. All of us in the family were performing with them. Back then, we did a bunch of Disney adaptations, including ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. Theatre and stage performances were an integral part of my growing up years. I was also a voracious reader. I would read a book a day. So I was constantly using my imagination. Interestingly, our first production was in the backyard of my aunt’s house. I still remember that as a child, I always played a bunch of animals. And I believe that it has helped me hone my skills as an actor. 

Mother has a had a huge influence on me 

There’s a spirit of positivity about my mother and I draw a lot of that from her. Nothing can really pull her down. She has been through a lot and she is an extremely tough lady. There’s an innate positivity to her and that is something which I have struggled with. I am not saying that I am a cynic or a pessimist.  But in the business that I am in, you have to be very thick-skinned because there’s a lot of rejection and one goes through periods of feeling low. So, I constantly remind myself that life is bigger than all this. Every moment is important and that one must make the most of it. After my father’s death, I was very shaken and I had a tough time for about a year. It is at this time that I learnt from my mother about how to hold on to that core of being positive. Another aspect that I try to emulate is her perfect time management. She is excellent at it. My father was very good at delegating and there’s a skill in that as well. However, my mother is like this one-man army who likes to do everything by herself. She has made me understand why it is important to be productive every day. She still makes those ‘to-do’ lists and writes them down by hand. That’s also something that I have imbibed from her. It gives every day some purpose and structure. 

Theatre will always be my first love  

Many ask me if I have taken a break from acting. I have not taken a break but I am taking it a little slow because I have my hands dipped in so many things. I am working on four plays back-to-back this year and I will be doing a part in ‘Bombay Begums’ on Netflix next year.
I am also looking at producing something of my own. I have got the rights to a book which I will be adapting into a film or a television show. It is called ‘Mr and Mrs Jinnah’ and is a period story. It is about Jinnah, his early life and marriage. It is a love story that is set in the pre-partition phase. It is about how Jinnah became the man he was and the women in his life, which included his friend Sarojini Naidu, sister and his wife, who was a Parsi.

The production will also look at inter-faith and inter-community marriages. The growing nationalism, that was burgeoning in the 1920s before partition, will also find a place in it. I will be turning a producer with this project. While theatre will always be my first love, I have deliberately taken a step back to work on this project. 

How I got under the skin of Devika Rani

Devika was an actor and a star in the 1930s. She was the first women to do a talkie film that came out in English in India. She was a very ambitious woman who came from a cultured Bengali background. But she was not very affluent.

From a very young age, she was ambitious, yearned to be independent and definitely wanted fame and recognition. The play ‘Devika Rani’ is the story of a girl and her journey through the ages of 18 to 36. It is also a  journey of Bombay Talkies and what Devika achieved professionally. The production will look at how ambitious, single-minded and progressive she was till she was 36 years old. At 36, she quit films forever. She was married to Himanshu Rai, who died very young but she very successfully ran Bombay Talkies for four or five years. There are stories about how she was a game-changer and path-breaker because she was one among the very few educated women acting back in those days. She later married Svetoslav Roerich, a Russian artist. They bought large tracts of land in Bengaluru which later ran into a lot of legal hurdles. Her spirit was strong and she fought till the end. 

There is a mystery, grace and glamour to Devika Rani’s character, which I could totally use my imagination to recreate in the production which will be staged at Good Shepherd auditorium in Bengaluru on October 2.   

(As told to Nina C George) 


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