One needs to be well prepared even for a five-minute conversation with veteran theatre and film actor Ratna Pathak Shah. Akin to her roles and presence in Hindi cinema, the actor speaks less but her words are a reflection of her astute choices. Shah who’ll be seen in Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha, which is currently doing the rounds of film festivals, was present at the recently concluded 5th Dharamshala International Film Festival. On a pleasant evening, we got the opportunity to converse with the noted actor about her upcoming film, how she hates ‘labels’ and the young directors she would like to work with.

Ratna Pathak Shah in Lipstick Under My Burkha

Ratna Pathak Shah in Lipstick Under My Burkha

The trailer of Lipstick Under My Burkha has been garnering a lot of interest and attention. What was it about the script that made you say yes to the film?

Everything about the script! It is an extremely well-written script. It had very interesting stories about four women, which you generally don’t see in the movies. It had a great part for me. So of course, I wanted to be part of it.


What were your reference points for your role in the film?

The woman is my age and it was not surprising that she finds the younger man attractive. She is a person who hasn’t had any real emotional relationship with a man. This is a little dream that she dreams and it results in all kinds of complications. So it is a very interesting idea.

Suddenly people are interested in talking about different kinds of women – the stereotypes

The film has been traveling to various festivals and was recently at MAMI and the Tokyo Film Festival too. How crucial are festivals in promoting a non – mainstream film like this?

These films find it hard to get distributors – people who are willing to put the money to show these films. The fact that Lipstick Under My Burkha has traveled to MAMI and then Tokyo, will surely make a difference to the film in terms of a release.


You have often said that you aren’t really happy about the roles that are offered to you, which is why you don’t do many films. With new age films such as Lipstick…, do you see things changing?

I was lucky last year as I did three wonderful films – Kapoor & Sons, Nil Battey Sannata and then Lipstick Under My Burkha. I’m not holding my breath about getting more such parts in a hurry because it is not easy to write a very good film. People seem to think that bad films are made deliberately. But it is really hard to make good films. I’m just fortunate that I got to be part of three really good films in one go.

Ratna Pathak -

In a still from Kapoor & Sons with Sidharth Malhotra and Rishi Kapoor

Is there any similar film that you are currently working on?

There is a new film, which I have to start shooting for. It is a lovely film called Love Per Square Foot. It is actor Anand Tiwari’s first feature as director.

Do you see films like these changing things for Hindi cinema?

Some of it is (changing). There is a more educated audience and people who are going into the industry. I think there are also more interesting people who are willing to put the money. Having intelligent producers is one of the most important things for making movies. I’m seeing that there are younger producers who are there to make good films and are willing to take risks.

You can’t have a good role in a vacuum

Recent times have also seen a rise in the number of women-centric films.

Yes, I guess so! Because suddenly people are interested in talking about different kinds of women – the stereotypes. Either the mother, wife, whore or the prostitute with the heart of the gold. All these stereotypes that have served Indian Cinema so well for the 100 years. Fortunately, those stereotypes are being shaken now. So there are better roles being written for women in general. Even in commercial films too – Kahaani has a really wonderful part for a woman. But I feel very sorry that the media tries to slot things – women-centric movies, action films, art films. Why do we need labels so much?


Ratna Pathak -

With, Ritu Sarin Naseeruddin Shah and Tenzing Sonam at DIFF 2016

Is there any particular kind of role that is on your wish list?

No. I don’t think in terms of dream role or some kind of role. I think a role is good only when it is supported by a story and a script that has something to say. You can’t have a good role in a vacuum.

And what makes you say yes to any film?

It is the script and the director. Quite simply these are the only two criteria.

People seem to think that bad films are made deliberately. But it is really hard to make good films

Lastly, are there any names from the young breed of filmmakers that you would like to work with?

Lots of young people are doing really wonderful work. There is a film I saw at DIFF, called Chutney by Jyoti Kapur Das. And even Adhiraj Bose’s Interior Café – Night or Umesh Kulkarni’s Highway are really good films. They are such bright and interesting directors and I would be happy to work with all of them.


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Ratna Pathak Shah
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