Thought Box

A Commanding Actor: Jayati Bhatia

A Commanding Actor: Jayati Bhatia

by Aparajita Krishna September 1 2021, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 13 mins, 6 secs

Aparajita Krishna deep dives into actor Jayati Bhatia’s life and career in theatre, television, films and web series.

On stage and on TV screen Jayati Bhatia owns the space and how! Her acts give  her a very commanding presence. Some of the working stills herein will also testify. Jayati in all the moods of her acts and in her impressive stage-presence appears much larger than her physical frame. She also has a very wholesome laugh. In a fairer world of Indian acting she should have been helming stellar roles in films.

One of her public posts reads, “Let’s befriend our own self first. Let’s try to understand each facet of our personality, accept them, make amends with them, make peace with our inner self and only then will we be able to make real friends outside.” She has made friends with many characters that she has expertly portrayed on stage and screen. We get talking.

In your Facebook post you say ‘Love & Laughter in life keeps me going. I somehow find something funny even in the most dire circumstances. Hope this brings a smile to your face.’ I recall your laughter in acts and in person to be very wholesome! And this is a great philosophy in life.

I really do find life very funny. It is dark at times, but when that time passes, you end up thinking what was the use of getting so hyper or morose? I think it might be my way of cushioning the blows that life throws at me. And it has really helped!!

In the popular imagination, as per Wikipedia you are: ‘Indian theatre and TV actor. She is best known for her role as Nirmala ‘Mataji’ Bhardwaj in Sasural Simar Ka (2011-2018), one of the longest-running TV shows that aired on Colors TV.’ A stroke of grey hair streak/patch on your appearance in the character became trademark. A fairer assessment would say that give you any role and you perform it with expertise and panache: from nerdy to negative to soft to being matriarchal! So, let me look for roles in you or you in roles as I try to sketch your profile. Tell us about your first act. It would be on a school stage?

The first act on stage, which I remember, is in a school play ‘Andher Nagri Chaupat Raja’. I played one of the bartans (utensils) - to be precise a ‘Paraat’ (large plate).

As far back as your memory goes, what are the first images of creative work, say in theatre, dance, music, radio and films, that beckoned you? TV would have come later.

My first memory on stage was a desh-bhakti geet by our class for the customary annual function and we were wearing white kurta-pajamas with a white Nehru topi.

Who were the actors who were influencing you in your growing-up years?

Mostly actors whom I got to watch on the big screen during Durga Puja or on television. So, it would be Uttam Kumar, Suchitra Sen, Mohanlal, Gemini Ganesan, Amitabh Bachchan, Rekha and Geeta Bali.

Tell us a bit about your family (parents and siblings if any) and growing up years. You were born in 1970. Originally a Bengali born in Odisha, you were raised in Delhi. As a child you got trained in classical Odissi dance.

We were a very, very middle class family of four: parents, me and one elder brother. The monthly salary would somehow go kaput by the 25th of every month, but believe me the last week of every month was the most joyful because we would only get dal chawal and aloo bhaatey or aloo bhaaja, but my parents would joke about it so much that there was only laughter. When my Baba would get his salary Ma would treat us to our favourite food again and make us feel like we were the richest! I was born in Ambodala in Rayagada district in Odisha and was brought up in Delhi in Daryaganj and Karol Bagh. I was trained in Odissi dance by my Guru Padmashri Guru Mayadhar Raut at Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra. I did my school from Cambridge School Sriniwaspuri and then graduated in English Literature from Delhi University and did my diploma in Russian Language from the then House of Soviet Science Culture & Art.

Jayati’s first stage performance as a professional Odissi dancer was at the age of eighteen. There is a black and white photograph of that. “I was 18 then. Butterflies in my stomach, but hope in my heart, rhythm in my veins and aashirwad from my Guruji”.

Theatre was in your destiny. You got trained under Mr Ebrahim Alkazi. You were part of the ‘Living Theatre’ which Mr Ebrahim Alkazi started after the 1991 convocation of the NSD. There were 22 students in the acting course and 8 in the direction course. It was held in the premises of the LTG auditorium, next to Kamani Auditorium in Mandi House. You are quoted saying that under his training you changed as a human being. “He changed me as an artist. I became a better dancer and a better actress.” In a 15 year old interview, now on the net, you are quoted as saying, ‘Serials are my bread and butter, but theatre’s my sweet dish.’ So do apprise us with the chosen plays that shaped you back then. And what roles did you perform? Who were some of your noted directors?

Theatre chose me. I was picked up by the director of Anton Chekhov Drama Studio, Sitaramji, for his play ‘Kya Yeh Gustakhi Hai’ – it was a Muslim social. Then after a strenuous audition, I got into Living Theatre, one of the last persons to be chosen by Alkazi Sahab for the course. I was more of an afterthought and I thank the universe for that. Mr. Ebrahim Alkazi is the finest teacher one can have in a lifetime. He changed our perspective towards fellow humans and taught us to love and be non-judgemental towards the shortcomings of others. To look into ourselves and be the change!

We did a number of plays in our course, each designed to shape us as the citizens of this wonderful planet. Wada Chirebandi (Virasat by Mahesh Elkunchwar), Royal Hunt of the Sun (by Peter Shaffers), Three Sisters (by Anton Chekhov), A Street Car Named Desire (by Tennessee Williams), Greek Trilogy, Death of A Salesman (by Arthur Miller), Desire Under the Elms (by Eugene O ‘Neill).

In Mumbai Theatre Jayati is quoted recalling an insightful incident. “I was studying theater with Alkazi in Living Theatre and we were performing Mahesh Elkunchwar’s Wada Chirebandi translated in Hindi as Virasat. I was playing Anjali Deshpande. Something happened in the make-up room and I got distracted and started changing for my next entry, totally forgetting that I had missed a very important entry. The play got over and I could not find Mr Alkazi anywhere so I was relieved. The next day as we were getting ready for the show, Mr Alkazi called me on stage and made me apologise to each and every cast member, backstage people, technical staff, because, as he explained, one missed entry by me had jeopardized everybody’s equilibrium for a few moments. Everyone had to improvise and balance the situation. I learnt that day, that small or big, we are all a part of a big machine and each art has to work in tandem with the others. I understood team work. I understood theatre!”  

Jayati debuted on TV in 1995, with the series ‘Challenge’, and in the role of Khushnuma. In Tu Tu Main Main she essayed Kumud. She also acted in Balaji Telefilms Kanyadaan, Itihaas, Kitne Kool Hain Hum, Kutumb, Kasauti Zindagi Ke (2003-6). She also acted in Zee TV’s Kaise Kahoon. In 2003 she acted as Jassi’s friend Bindiya in Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin. In 2005 she played Titli in Sinndoor Tere Naam Ka and in Mamta (2006-7) she was cast as Mishti.

Jayati fondly recalls her television journey. “Yes it’s been a wonderful journey. Sasural Simar Ka (Season 1) ran for seven years and now Sasural Simar Ka (Season 2) is currently on-air.”

She had expressed her emotions on her Facebook too. “I gave my last shot as Mataji in Sasural Simar Ka - 2018. Many beautiful anecdotes and memories came back to me. It dawned on me that I have received so much love and respect from this unit and the audience that I can just humbly thank the universe that I was given this opportunity to collect and treasure such good wishes. I will always cherish the last seven years. It was really a joyride. Years well spent from my quota of life. Big thanks Colors TV.” 

How is the experience of working in web series? You have acted in the Bengali web series Tansener Tanpura and in the Marathi web series Tic Tac Toe.

I made a debut in my mother tongue Bengali at the ripe age of 48 and the most beautiful part is that it was a musical thriller where I got to lip-sync some wonderful compositions based on Indian classical ragas. The bonus being that Tansener Tanpura turned out to be the most watched series of 2020. One cannot be a true Mumbaikar if you do not own up the culture and language and food. I am so blessed that I could be a part of web series Tic Tac Toe, produced by my friend Mr. Anil Patil, where I had to speak Marathi. It was tough to get the syntax right, and the accent, but I somehow managed!!

Do inform us about your acts in films.

A cracker of a role where the filmdom will wake up to this immensely talented entity named Jayati Bhatia is still eluding me! (Laughter emojis) But I have been part of a few films like ‘Barah Aana’, ‘68pages’, ‘Bhangda Pa Le’.

She rightfully says ‘The Greenroom is ‘My happy place’’. Getting back to her theatre, she rose tall in her central role of Khatijabai of Karmali terrace (adapted and directed by Q). The reviews and the audience gave her a standing ovation. “….brilliant portrayal of the quintessential Bahu, Patni and Ma” (The Hindu). “One of the most memorable acts in in recent times….” (The New Indian Express, Bangalore). Blame It On Yashraj (Ashwin Gidwani/Bharat Dhabolkar) advertised as ‘Full Masti’, ‘Full Dhamaal’ had a very long run that saw our young woman give a most spirited performance.  

Salaam, Noni Appa, based on Twinkle Khanna’s book The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, was a theatre production directed by Lillete Dubey and both of you co-starred. I have been an audience. It has a top-ranking, stellar ensemble cast. Do tell us about the experience and the accolades that came your way.

I have immense respect for director Lillete Dubey. Many times before we have tried to work together but somehow it never happened. But like all things in my life I was destined to play ‘Binny’ to my ‘Noni Appa’! The beautiful thing is that the creator of this character, Twinkle Khanna, has loved this Binny that Lillete Mam presented on stage.

Jayati also partook in Eve Ensler’s noted play The Vagina Monologues, directed at our end by Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal, and produced by Kaizaad Kotwal. In 2016 The World Women Leadership Conference decided to honour the entire team in India for their contribution. Kaizaad Kotwal  wrote, “In the same week where we learned we have received 7 nominations at the 2016 META Awards (the highest theatre honours in the nation) and where we were chosen as one of the 10 Best Plays out of 322 entries from all over India and in every language, we also learned that the World Women Leadership Conference has decided to honour the entire team of The Vagina Monologues for their contributions and leadership in India. We are thrilled, humbled and honoured. Please take a bow.”   

How do you view the Indian cultural scene in the present of 2021? Is it easy to be in the creative arts and sustain ones livelihood and passion? Has the Coronavirus taken a toll?

I thank my stars every day that I chose television to earn my livelihood in Mumbai. Television has given me financial stability so that I could pursue my passion for Theatre. And I am waiting restlessly for the day when this pandemic is over and we go back to full houses in Theatre Auditoriums and bring back the magical world of plays and performing Arts on stage. I miss rehearsals and all the madness that goes along with it. I miss curtain calls and standing  ovations and after-play dinners.

What is the best part about being an actor and in the creative field?

To be in the light! To create different worlds and live in it. To make people help forget their small big miseries even if for a short while. To show the mirror to the society and strive to help make this world a better place. Being part of this wondrous community, that above all else, loves humanity.

What is the next theatre production about? Ready or gestating?

I am so excited about this new play with a very, very talented director Ms. Yuki Elias called Roxy. Just hope she still has it on her agenda once this pandemic is over.

You are multi-lingual. 

I can speak and understand a few languages: Bengali, Hindi , English , Punjabi, passable Odiya, Marathi and Russian.

One learns that you are an active supporter of the LGBTQ+ rights. If so do articulate your view.

This world and our hearts are a wonderful place and it can accommodate all. As long as it is about love and peace everything is acceptable. This pandemic has taught me that rejoice with all that you have! I have been a supporter of #Kashishfilmfestival. All the films and documentaries I watched spoke only about love and relationships. They were human stories and I did not find them any different from my own hurts and happiness!!

Bhatia is your married sir-name. Do tell us about your partnership and if you are a mother about motherhood.

I consider myself very fortunate that I met Kiran Bhatia (Kiki to all his friends from theatre in Delhi) at a very opportune time in my life where I needed someone to guide me towards my future. He was that catalyst who introduced me to theatre and to Mr. Alkazi and later to Mumbai. He has been a true partner who let me blossom into a person that I am today. My ardent supporter and my biggest critic.  I did not procreate by choice. It is not that I do not love children, but I decided not to add to the bursting at the seams population of our country. There is immense ‘mamta’ and ‘vatsalaya’ in my heart, which I shower on the people I love and care for. Also in my heart I feel I would have been a very demanding parent and made my child’s life miserable. I would have been a real life ‘Khatijabai’ (haha)!!

May the sound of Jayati Bhatia’s acts and Laughter continue to boom and bloom!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.

Aparajita Krishna Jayati Bhatia Actor Theatre Television Films Web series Indian cinema Facebook Wikipedia Indian theatre TV actor Sasural Simar Ka Colors TV Trademark Patriarchy Andher Nagri Chaupat Raja Dance Music Radio Nehru topi Durga Puja Uttam Kumar Suchitra Sen Mohanlal Gemini Ganesan Amitabh Bachchan Rekha Geeta Bali Bengali Odisha Delhi Odissi dance Ambodala Rayagada district Daryaganj Karol Bagh Padmashri Guru Mayadhar Raut Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra Cambridge School Sriniwaspuri English Literature Delhi University Soviet Science Culture & Art Ebrahim Alkazi Living Theatre NSD National School of Drama Kamani Auditorium Mandi House Anton Chekhov Drama Studio Wada Chirebandi Mahesh Elkunchwar Royal Hunt of the Sun Peter Shaffers Three Sisters Anton Chekhov A Streetcar Named Desire Tennessee Williams Greek Trilogy Death of A Salesman Arthur Miller Desire Under the Elms Eugene O ‘Neill Mumbai Theatre Kanyadaan Itihaas Kitne Kool Hain Hum Kutumb Kasauti Zindagi Ke Zee TV Kaise Kahoon Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin Sinndoor Tere Naam Ka Tansener Tanpura Tic Tac Toe Marathi Mumbaikar Anil Patil Barah Aana 68pages Bhangda Pa Le The Hindu The New Indian Express Bangalore Blame It On Yashraj Ashwin Gidwani Bharat Dhabolkar Salaam Noni Appa Twinkle Khanna The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad Lillete Dubey Eve Ensler The Vagina Monologues Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal Kaizaad Kotwal The World Women Leadership Conference META Awards Coronavirus Pandemic Mumbai Yuki Elias LGBTQ+ rights Kashish Film Festival Kiran Bhatia