An interview with Geeta Tyagi, Performing Artist
Shubhra: How and when did your association with JNU start? What was your first impression of the campus?
Geeta: My association with JNU started way back in 1989 when I had applied for admission into BA Languages. I qualified for admission into Persian and Chinese languages. I was literally confused with both the difficult options that I had. Finally, I opted for Chinese.
I was born in Dehradun where I had my primary school education. Unlike today, it was a small town where it was possible to know nearly everyone by face. My father who was serving in Military Engineering Services was transferred to distant locations every 3-4 years. This gave me an opportunity to visit a few other places, though only small ones. Coming to a metropolitan city like Delhi was a major step heading for a change in my life. On my arrival to JNU, I was allotted Godavari Hostel. Unlike Delhi proper, JNU appeared to be a class apart, green and sparsely populated. Students were brilliant, politically conscious and articulate. Hailing from a small town I initially felt the divide. Gradually, subsequent to my participations in mess discussions, moving around in campus with friends and spending time in dhabas helped me absorb the culture shock. I got several opportunities to watch street plays, meet artists and eminent personalities from different spheres of life. All these activities helped me pull myself from the cocoon that I was living in. At the end I can say that JNU moulded me into a confident girl. It was here where I realized how successful a society could be if gender bias is eliminated and all are treated at par. One could actually lead a happy, uncomplicated and progressive life, exemplifying 'simple living high thinking'.
Shubhra: What has been the trajectory of your career since you left JNU?
Geeta: At the very first I must admit that had I not been in JNU I would not have been where I am today. JNU does not produce professional theatre artists but has the capacity to sow seeds for such talents. Our teacher Prof. Tan Chung at the 'Centre for Chinese Studies' was perhaps the most admired teacher. Other than routine teaching he used to involve us in viewing some of the best Chinese movies. Prof. Tan Chung used to elaborate and discuss in depth the subject of the movies, actors in films and their performances. So, my realization of the importance of subjects of acting/theatre began in a Chinese class. Also, at these times understanding the language was secondary for me and what impressed me most was usually the analysis and the performance of the actors. I must say that the quality of Chinese movies that he selected for students were high and realistic in content. Also, during my stay in JNU I watched many street plays and could immediately connect myself to them. My fascination for theatre turned intense and I started dreaming of pursuing it as a hobby. During this phase I also started visiting and exploring the Mandi House area. I realized that the National School of Drama (NSD) was a dream place for training into theatre-related careers. After my graduation I applied for admission into NSD. I needed a couple of recommendation letters with the application. For one recommendation I was suggested to request Prof. Namvar Singh. I was aware of his stature and had been hesitant for some days before going to him. While making the request for the recommendation letter I must have sounded rather meek. While I was making the request he was observing me. On hearing me he said (in Hindi) 'itni dheemay bologi to natak kaise karogi'. I had no response but got the message from his words. To this day I am grateful to Prof. Namvar Singh for his words of wisdom, encouragement and recommendation.
Subsequent to the initial screening of applications I was called for the next level of screening at NSD. After a rigorous three-day selection process I was fortunate to get admission into NSD. My selection for specialization in 'acting' implied a good ranking. This was the beginning of a new phase of my struggle and there was no turning back.
After completing my training at NSD, I worked at the NSD repertory for some time where I did some lead roles in plays like Romeo Juliet, Charuvak, Abhigyaan Shakuntalam etc. I also had the good fortune to work with directors like Habib Tanvir, Prasanna, Robin Das, Anuradha Kapoor, Devraj Ankur, Waman Bendre, Imtiaz Ali and the like. I can recall doing a rather small role in a play directed by Habib Tanvir. While watching one of his rehearsals he called me and enquired if I would be interested in doing a role. I readily agreed to it. My only role in the play was to be picked up by someone who would emerge from the crowd, lift me and move away from the scene. Too small a role but it was exciting as this was my first play and that too with someone like Habib Tanvir.
Eventually I moved to Mumbai and auditioned to work in TV serials. Alongside I also spent some time doing theatre. Did several plays with eminent artists including Pankaj Kapoor, Supriya Pathak, Jaya Bachchan. Some of these plays like Maa Retire Hoti Hai and Doctor Mukta directed by Ramesh Talwar were performed in many cities of India and abroad for several years. My passion for theatre still continues.
Some of the prominent serials where I played lead or central roles included Kunti (title role), Balika Vadhu, Punar Vivaah, Doli Armaano Ki, Apne Mere Apne, Swarg, Chaand Chupa Badal Mein, Abhigyaan Shakuntalam, Ek Boond Ishq, Dreamgirl etc. Cannot recall the names of all but I must have worked in more than two dozen serials with major roles.
Shubhra: Being an actress, tell us about the role JNU has played in developing your thought process and eventually your choice of career.
Geeta: Not only academically, culturally also JNU is a very rich institution. It not only shows you the off-beat career options but also encourages you to dare and make alternative choices. Before coming to JNU I had no big dreams. For too long I only watched everyone in silence. I saw teachers & students interacting in such a friendly ambience. The classes had no attendance registers. Most of the cultural and political activities or discourses were held only post dinner. We could stay out of our hostels as long as we wished and without being questioned for late hostel entries. I would come across some girls smoking over a cup of tea just like boys. Not that I appreciated smoking but all this did suggest the immense sense of freedom within the campus that disappeared once we were out of these boundaries. Soon I realized that this level of freedom does teach us to be responsible for our actions. My decision to take up acting as a career emerged from JNU, nurtured in NSD and fulfilled in Mumbai.
Shubhra: What are the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of your career?
Geeta: The most rewarding part of my career is that 'my hobby is my profession'. I couldn't have asked for more. I am happy that from nowhere I am at a place where I had wished to be, and living with my aspirations with a great sense of fulfillment. Challenges in such a career are obvious, as one never knows when a better and more talented person will arrive and replace you. Again, one must be ready to welcome the change but also keep evolving and improving upon oneself. Regretting over the arrival of better ones actually never pays. It should not be perceived in the sense of 'victory or defeat' but as a sign of 'challenge'. My belief is that when wisdom begins to rule the mind these narrow divides or conflicts within oneself disappear.
Shubhra: With regard to the kind of work you do, is there any message you would like to convey to our readers, in particular the student community of JNU?
Geeta: Consistent hard work is an inseparable ingredient of success in any profession. One must be focused, dedicated and adaptable to change. However, if one pursues the profession of his/her liking all the above ingredients become much easier to execute and one can scale unparalleled heights.
JNUites are admired globally for being socially conscious and proactive. So, we must live up to this reputation and keep the good work going. Cheers.