Music, theatre, TV shows, cinema and painting – Suchitra Krishnamoorthi justifies every role she enters in. As if that was not enough, she as a writer has mixed fiction with fact to make waves in a semi-autobiographical work converted into stage form and is keen to take it to overseas centres like Singapore, because the issues and emotions her comically introspective Drama Queen touches are universal.
After a successful stint as a model in the 1990s and later as the female lead opposite Shah Rukh Khan in late Kundan Shah's Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na, Suchitra became better known for a while as film-maker Shekhar Kapur's wife and then ex-wife. Drama Queen touches all of these in a work ridden with anxiety and humour: the wish to be slim, the stresses of a single mother and above all, the lonesome craving of a superwoman for companionship.
You can only guess which part is fact and which part is fiction in Drama Queen staged recently in Delhi as part of the Old World Theatre Festival. Aided only by voice-acting from others, Suchitra holds forth on stage playing herself, or somebody close: singing, emoting, screaming and crying. And having paranoid midnight conversations with a stern, strong and caring mother.
"I wrote the book. Parts of incidents are true and some I dramatised," Suchitra told Connected to India. "I used a lot of my imagination that’s built in the play also. For instance, I don’t have any friends named Sangeeta or Chandni. So, a lot of it is fictionalised. I never went to Bangkok in that fashion. You can’t call it an absolute biography. The instances are taken and woven into a story. But it is my journey and a lot of it is my experiences. The relationship with my Amma is really correct,” she laughs.
Suchitra shrugs off concerns of not having a structured career.
"I have lived exactly the way I have felt. I have done what I have felt like doing. I have gained some, I have lost some.”
“Different things excite me at a different time when I do that. It’s not that I divide my day into half an hour of painting or half an hour of writing. I go through months of just paintings, or months of just writing, or months of not doing anything. So, it’s about the state of mind what I feel like doing at that time. I feel grateful to have so many avenues of expression. That also shows I never get bored,” she said.
Strangely enough, the well-travelled Suchitra has never been to Singapore despite it being a common hop for millions of Indians - and kind of wants to make amends by hoping to perform her celebrated work on the island.
“The cultural difference will definitely resonate differently. But a lot of the struggles presented in the play are very universal, about loneliness, wanting companionship and so on. I have a lot of Western friends who read the book and they could relate to it. They loved it. Our battles are pretty universal, at some level. The specific references may differ but the emotional contradictions are pretty universal.
“I am waiting to explore the reaction from Singapore. It’s like that film My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It was originally written as a play like Drama Queen with a single woman act. Who would have thought Greek culture could be so conservative, but we all related to that,” Suchitra said.
The play, Drama Queen, woven into her experience on the eventful years post her divorce from Shekhar Kapur, brings out questions on the changing ways of Indian culture and beliefs.
“It is challenging. You have to take responsibility for your decision and stand by them. We are not singular. Our life involves so many relationships and so many parallel scenarios going on. Anybody sensible will attempt to keep things harmonious (while) keeping your integrity and yourself at a top as a choice,” she said.
Hoping to turn the play into a movie, Suchitra said, “Entertainment in India is too much glamour. It needs to have more attention. Dance and theatre don’t get the attention they deserve. The attention is so much on Bollywood and glamour. It’s getting better than before because now it’s much more diverse. Theatre as compared to earlier has got a larger audience. But on the economic front, it’s a different ball game compared to Bollywood or TV, unlike in the West, where it is a very lucrative avenue. A lot has to change in India.”
Tribute to Shah
When asked about the recent demise of Indian filmmaker Kundan Shah, most known for his comedy classic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983), but one who gave her probably the most fame as an artist, Suchitra said, “Kundan was a very simple soul and a genius of a filmmaker. I think his films reflected the innocence of his own persona. Everyone was waiting for that one film which could bring Kundan back, but that never happened. But he has left his legacy. People make 100 films and nobody remembers him. He has made two of the biggest classics.”
While busy performing Drama Queen across India, Suchitra is also working on a new book. She is a classically trained vocalist in the Gwalior Gharana style of Indian classical music. She studied the art form for over ten years.
As a trained painter, Suchitra has exhibited her works in galleries across India and overseas. Her art, Suchitra proclaims, is a divine blessing from Lord Ganesha, whose presence in Drama Queen is certainly not fiction!