‘Agnipankh’: A blend of power & vulnerability

The play revolves around Baisaab, a matriarch who has to take up the responsibility of her family, inside and outside the constraints of the house when her husband fails to do so

‘Agnipankh’: A blend of power & vulnerability

Garima Sadhwani

Set in the year 1947, on the eve of the country’s independence, Zee Theatre’s latest, Agnipankh, is a play that is relevant even in contemporary times, feels actor Mita Vashisht, who portrays the role of Durgeshwari or ‘Baisaab’.

What makes the National School of Drama graduate believe so is the play’s tryst with caste. The play revolves around Baisaab, a matriarch who has to take up the responsibility of her family, inside and outside the constraints of the house when her husband fails to do so.

Vashisht says that the play talks about caste openly and honestly. She adds, “Baisaab does not want her son to marry outside the caste system, because her milieu forbids it. Her stringent rules about vegetarian food in her kitchen are also driven by certain convictions. She even dislikes her daughter-in-law because she came from another caste. The caste system is also what forbids love from sprouting between her daughter and a servant’s son.”

But the play isn’t solely about the politics of it all. Vashisht says that it’s about the ethics and strength that it takes to do the right thing, no matter what your beliefs, conditioning or circumstances are. Like Baisaab does in the play, when she acknowledges her daughter-in-law's capabilities and hands over her empire to her.

Shedding light on her character, Vashisht shares the duality of Baisaab’s life. She is an entrepreneur, a breakthrough figure in an era of gender disparity, managing her business and people effortlessly. And yet, when it comes to her marriage, she is an unfulfilled mother and wife, yearning for love and tenderness. Even though she is feared for her power and courage, Baisaab is still a vulnerable woman in love.

And that is exactly why Vashisht chose the role too. “It is rare when you get a role that allows you to travel from one end of the spectrum to the other and embody both power and vulnerability,” says she. The opportunity to experiment with and explore layers in the character excited her too. So much so that she immersed herself in the script and dialogues until she had internalised Baisaab.

Interestingly, every time a different character was on stage, Vashisht found herself changing Baisaab’s sur according to their class, social standing or relationship with the matriarch. “She has many shades as a woman and profound intelligence in the way she handles people,” quips the actor.

Vashisht happens to have an acting secret. She shares, “I read the script many times. I want to start each journey with a clean slate and the script decides what I have to do. I want the character and myself to meet at a point where we become a third person that is true to the script.”

A part of this process is taking on every challenge that the role brings along with it- the task to represent a new life and a new thinking process. And Agnipankh brought a bunch of challenges too. Vashisht says that shooting for the camera while performing for a live audience was a bit of a test. “I wanted to perform in such a way that the whole experience of watching the play would have a wonderful, theatrical energy and resonance,” says she.

And she seems happy with how the play has turned out as well. For her, it is everything that a good drama should be- a combination of a brilliant storyline, powerful characters and writing that’ll be remembered. She says that the audience definitely goes on a journey with the characters, experiencing different rasas as the play progresses.

Vashisht will be seen in Prime Video’s Chori next, and in Good Luck Jerry where she plays Janhvi Kapoor’s mother. She is shooting for a few web series, while also working on her own play Lal Ded.

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