The first thing you will always notice is the confidence.
The exuberance with which Rytasha Rathore goes about life is not just aspirational as a woman, but also as an artist. Is it the loyalty towards her craft? Or is it the curiosity to unearth more? More of humanness, more of the stage performances, or more of self? Looking at her journey from Badho Bahu to her recent podcast Agla Station Adulthood Rytasha has shown the range that artists of today only wish they had the gall for!
Break a Leg! got the chance to catch up with Rytasha Rathore and she gave us wonderful, unencumbered insights about her journey in the world of theatre and performance, her growth as a human and an artist, and the glorious pain of adulthood.
From Badho Bahu to The Brand New Show, it has been a leap of many sorts. As an actor do you ever perceive a role to be too typical-an archetype on what has been accepted? Do you wish to challenge it?
I think that applies more to very mainstream entertainment because they’re catering to the average Indian viewer. I’m experimenting with all kinds of mediums and all kinds of storytelling so, honestly, I don’t think about it too much, and I’m not really here to challenge anything. There are plenty of people doing fresh and interesting work also. Either I get involved with them or make my own work. Both viable options.
You have challenged a lot of existing norms in the industry. Ideas that have been dormant for some time, just unanimously accepted. Did this always come to you organically? Do you ever have doubts about it ?
Firstly, I’m shook that y’all think that! In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe I’ve done anything of the sort except lived my life by my rules and been honest to my craft. Everything that followed, I suppose, was just a result of that. Doubts still abound. Despite being reasonably self-confident I have MAJOR doubts some days and really have to pull myself out of that negative spiral. The internet is also a weird place, which can mess up a perfectly healthy mind. But doubts and triumphs are all part of the adulthood journey, I’ve just learnt to accept that and just keep swimming.
I recently came across your podcast Agla Station Adulthood. It addressed a lot of topics through various perspectives. This exploration is a breath of fresh air, makes us feel not-so-alone. As an artist and an individual how necessary do you think this exploration is?
Oh man!! I’d just like to say I’m so grateful I get to have this one special thing with one of my best friends. Long before the podcast came along, my friends and I would have similar conversations about what it means to be a functional adult, the joy and the struggles of it. We were fresh out of college and on our first, second or third job. And what struck me was that everyone was in the same boat.
Learning to be a legit adult is hard work and talking to each other makes it bearable. So it felt like the most natural thing to have a podcast about. Recording week after week forces me to take stock of my progress (or lack thereof) in the adulthood department, to learn new things or relearn things I’ve forgotten, it forces me to practice what I preach, and has helped me understand human nature better- both personally and as an artist, because it’s too entwined for me.
The artist within can only grow when Rytasha the human grows. My human journey in the last five years has taught me that everything is connected, I am you and you are me and so on…and of course we are not alone, that’s the whole basis of it. This modern profit-centered consumer culture we are in sometimes makes us forget that very basic thing, instead making us less compassionate and tuned into the positive life force that flows through all of us. If we want to continue to learn, unlearn and grow towards our infinite potential, in mind, body, emotions and energy, this exploration is key.
This also brings me to the concept collaborations. Does that happen enough in the Indian theatre scene? Or is Indian theatre very campy or group driven?
I definitely think we can be more collaborative as an industry. But for that to happen we need to move out of our comfort zones and little insular bubbles. I think more devised/original collaborations across language, genre and styles would definitely make our theatre scene far more interesting.
Your natural affinity for pioneering the body positivity movement in India has been so uplifting I cannot even express it in words. Was there ever a significant instance or was it a journey towards self-acceptance?
It is an ongoing, long and often difficult journey towards self acceptance. Every day is a step towards a more ‘true’ or ‘authentic’ kind of self-love, peppered with the fortnightly feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem, duh.
This shift in self-perception, how do you think it impacts you as an artist? Does being comfortable with your body help you explore characters that you otherwise wouldn’t or perhaps look at regular characters differently and add more layers to them?
It worked the other way around, actually. I joined the Indian entertainment workforce fresh out of drama school in 2015. I used to be so shy to call myself an actor or an artist- I felt I hadn’t earned it yet. So when I began working, I got a deeper understanding of myself as a professional, working actor. I could see the benefits of my training, and my confidence in my craft really set in about two years into the ‘real world’. And that’s what led to the shift in self-perception. And then of course that renewed sense of self- of me as the artist, the actor, the adult – it all started to contribute a heightened sensitivity and more wholesome understanding of the inner lives of the characters I play. That’s pretty special. While physical detailing is very important – that’s only one aspect of it. The character has to be filled with a rich inner world. It’s that inner life which will shape how the character looks or dresses or walks or talks in that world.
If there was one thing that you could change about Indian theatre scene with a wave of a magic wand, what would it be?
Big a$$ budgets for actual good directors, playwrights and passionate creators! It’s high-time we see some moolah going towards the REAL good work.
Could you tell me about one of your most cherished stage moments?
Those are usually right before the show begins. Warming up, setting the costume changes and props, waiting for the third bell, and of course my favourite moment – the team huddle onstage before it all begins, everyone going up to each other and saying “break a leg”. Ok now I’m getting emotional and nostalgic so I’ll stop.
You are among one of the few artists who have formal training in theatre, why did you feel the need to seek that? Does this give you an edge over the other actors in any way?
I always loved performing and often as a child thought “oh I’ll grow up and be a heroine” (because in those days, did we even use the word actor lol? For us kids it was just “hero” and “heroine”). I’m lucky that my parents were the ones who said that if I wanted to be an actor, I would have to study acting. They encouraged me to take a gap year after 12th standard so I could figure my life out. My drama school programme leader Edith Podesta once told me I have natural talent but that wasn’t enough. There are plenty of talented actors who never make it.
Training broadened my mind towards what performance could be, it helped me unlearn a lot of bullshit societal conditioning, to learn to let go of shame and judgment, to understand a character and the world of the play/script beyond simply what’s on paper and what the director tells you. Trained actors are also infinitely better at understanding ensemble work and being a part of a collective and seeing the play as a whole as opposed to an attention hungry untrained actor who might only be focussed on their own role or their lines.
Going to drama school helped me become a thinking actor, something we definitely lack. A lot of ‘yes’ humans around trying to be actors. Most importantly, training equips you to be a thorough professional once you’re out in the business which is also something our entertainment industry at large lacks majorly. I can’t recommend it enough, if you have the resources – GO GET TRAINED!
And finally, tell us the ritual you follow before getting onto stage?
My favourite vocal warm up, called ‘destructuring’ (Fitzmaurice voicework), which can be very loud and scary for onlookers but is the GREATEST vocal warm up of all time. While the audience is trickling in and settling down, I like to be in the wings meditating or just focussing on breathe. And lastly, I like to centre and ground myself, yield to the floor, be on breathe, present in the moment, and ready to GO!