By Neeru Saluja
She’s everyone’s favorite with her popular roles in Four More Shots Please!, Made in Heaven, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan and Udja Chaman. Talented actor Maanvi Gagroo now takes a global leap with international writer-director Rahul Chittella in the virtual show ‘Islands of Contentment’.
Co-produced by Hypokrit Productions and The Tank, Islands of Contentment is a moving meditation comprising 13 monologues. Written by Dipti Bramhandkar and directed by Arpita Mukherjee and Hannah Wolf, Islands of Contentment features a combination of live performances, audience participation and filmed monologues, which are directed by Rahul Chittella.
We spoke to actor Maanvi Gagroo and director Rahul Chittella on the process of working with this new medium as an actor and director, Maanvi going global, how she chooses her characters and her views on body positivity.
Rahul and Maanvi, Islands of Contentment is a one of kind virtual show transporting the audience to the subject matter via monologues on Zoom. Please tell us how both of you worked with this new medium, as an actor and director?
Rahul: This is a play that comprised 13 monologues, written by Dipti Bramhandkar who is the playwright. The monologues deal with various issues and moments revolving around relationships between the characters. Arpita Mukherjee who is the producer and co-director of the play has been a creative partner for many years. She asked me if I would be interested in filming five monologues with actors of my choice. What fascinated me the most was the cast of South Asian and Indian actors. Amongst them was Maanvi, and I recall she had initially reached out to me when I made the film ‘Azaad’.
Maanvi: His opening sentence was ‘I will only call you when something exciting comes up and here I’m getting in touch with you’! I thought the format was very interesting and I would be interacting with an audience that I have never interacted with before. My monologue deals with a glitch in the protagonist’s horoscope and I have a lot of views and opinions about Indian marriage. The interplay of the glitch in her horoscope, the seed of superstition and how it plays out was quite interesting for me.
Maanvi, this is your first global project and you will be working with seasoned actors like Kalki Koechlin and Suraj Sharma amongst others. How do you feel as you broaden your base?
Maanvi: It’s really exciting! Many years ago I did an Indo-British-Australian production directed by Summer Nicks. I liked the experience and professionalism but the film never saw the light of the day. With the internet coming in, the best part is that it has brought the same kind of tribe together. There is so much exchange beyond borders and I’ve always wanted to take my work to a wider audience.
Rahul, you have collaborated with Mira Nair on The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Suitable Boy as a creative and producing partner. While directing monologues, how did you infuse your creativity?
Rahul: What was particularly interesting as at the core it’s a theatrical play but it’s filmed. We were very clear that we will shoot it cinematically yet we won’t let the theatrical experience get lost. So all the five monologues that I’m filming with Maanvi, Suraj, Sumit Vyas, Kalki and Vinay Pathak are all done in one take. The camera is still so it’s going back to the basics. To create a story out of eight minutes was the most interesting take. When the audience will see this, it will be a mix of live and filmed performance.
Maanvi, you have voiced your opinions about body positivity. What change do you think you have brought in Indian cinema via your roles?
Maanvi: This is something I never intended to do. It was not a cause as it was never an issue. When I entered this industry, I was told I look a certain way and that’s when it hit me. I was told I was neither too skinny nor too fat to be cast for a role, but isn’t that the reality! Not every woman will fit in the perfect mould – be it the color of your skin, weight or height. A lot of my young fans come up to me praising how I can carry off each outfit and that’s when I realised how many young girls face body image issues. With social media, it is getting worse as you only see photo shopped pictures of people looking beautiful, in exotic locations and you feel that your life is trash, but that is not true. That is when I wanted to speak about body positivity and the need for different faces.
Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share?
Maanvi: Please watch the entire show as it represents a different diaspora and will force you to think on various issues.
Rahul: It is very entertaining, funny and quick and is a great night out!
*The performance schedule for Islands of Contentment is as follows: 16 April – 2 May
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, 9pm and 10pm; and Sundays at 5pm, 6pm and 7pm.
**All times Eastern.
Tickets are available starting at $20 at thetanknyc.org/