TV and movie actor Shruti Ulfat, who started her journey with a small theater group in Dehradun, moved to Mumbai when she was very young. Her successful stint in Indian television made her a household name, and then she moved to the silver screen and acted in films like Raaz, Aetbaar and Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan. However, the lure of catchy folk beats and the vibrant multicoloured costumes of the nautanki act caught her eye, and she decided to champion this fading art.
Nautanki, she says, was the original folk theatre that evolved in northern India, but over the years the appeal of this dance-drama entertainment slowly faded.
“When my husband Alok Ulfat adapted Mani Madhukar’s play Dulari Bai into a version that would appeal to urbanites, we decided to take our play, Dulari Dhamaal, pan-India and call it Mumbai’s best nautanki. The idea was to reach out to people and make them aware of the old art of storytelling through catchy dialogues, over-the-top expressions and of course, the authentic sounds of folk music and instruments,” mentions Shruti, who plays the lead.
Shruti’s husband Alok, who started the Avikal theatre company 17 years ago, composed all the songs and re-worked the script to suit the new-age theatre lovers. “We first showcased the play in Dehradun, the birthplace of our theater company. Alok and I met when we were studying theatre in Dehradun, and fell in love and got married when we were very young. We have a nine-year-old son Ojasya Soham, who also plays a small role in Dulari Dhamaal. He too is learning the nitty-gritty of stage performance,” says the actress.
Shruti, who is a fitness freak, mentions that she spends most of her time in the gym because that rejuvenates her after a stressful day at work. The bubbly actor says, “I like to stay fit and even though I am travelling most of the time, I like to take out time and work out. It helps me stay fit and active all through the day. Apart from that, I like listening to music, with the choice of song depending on my mood.”
About her role in the nautanki, Shruti reveals that she plays a sassy village belle Dulari Bai, who enjoys the attention of eligible bachelors and shows her witty and poetic side with her musical expressions. Shruti mentions, “The language of this nautanki is ornamented with poetry and tukbandi (rhythmic alliterations). It uses a mix of Urdu, Braj, Hindi, Rajasthani and some occasional Hinglish catchphrases. The play has got an amazing response from theatre lovers of Mumbai and our mandali (team) was praised for our ‘rustic’ performance.”
She adds, “Dulari Bai is a very interesting character. She’s the last eligible maiden in a north Indian village. She is gorgeous but miserly, innocent but suspicious, virtuous but brash. Her vibrant arrogance is a cause of trouble and confusion. As the sneaky and insecure bachelors of the village race along to win her, hilarious moments of crisp comedy ensue. Soldier, cobbler, fisherman, village chief, fraudsters, kings and clowns in vibrant costumes, sing and dance to rural songs and beats. Even the names of the characters are catchy like Katorimal Itrafarosh (perfume dealer), Chimna Maajhi (fisherman), Nanku Mochi (cobbler), and there is also a gayan mandali (local orchestra).”
Shruti, whose powerhouse performance for two hours keeps the audience captivated, gives all the credit to her team for this play. “We aim to celebrate the simplicity of life through this medium. We have seen enough Western literature inspired stories in theatre, for us it was time for some desi-style storytelling,” she concludes.