The Honest Truth with Ratna Pathak Shah

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Much of the Indian film industry opts for diplomatic spiel and careful politesse, but not actor Ratna Pathak Shah. For instance, ask her about the culture of film criticism in India and you’ll get a cutting assessment: “I know there are a lot of film commentators currently, sure, but film criticism is a serious job. Merely using words like ‘clap-worthy’ and ‘fabulous’ or assigning star-ratings to a film doesn’t suffice. One needs to dedicate themselves properly to this profession, and make sharp observations, which I find missing.” 

Ahead of the release of Kutch Express (2022), Shah was no less blunt about why it had taken her till now to appear in a Gujarati film. “Whatever little I had seen of Gujarati cinema in the past decades, none of it aligned with my taste. Most of them were old-fashioned and regressive,” she said. If she’s cutting with her critique, Shah is also generous with her praise. “The attempts made by Gujarati cinema in the last 10 years have been a breath of fresh air,” she said. “With films like Kevi Rite Jaish (2012), Bey Yaar (2014), and Hellaro (2019), the current lot of Gujarati filmmakers have shown great promise in how they aspire to capture the lives of Gujarati people authentically.” 

Over an acting career of almost 50 years, Shah has been one of Indian entertainment’s brightest stars. Daughter of the acting legend Dina Pathak, Shah began as a theatre actor in 1974 during her college years. Although she enjoyed the experience, she had mixed feelings about acting as a profession. “I had seen my mother do certain kinds of melodramatic plays, and I was sure I didn’t want to do that kind of work,” she said. “At first I assumed acting would come fairly easily to me, considering I had seen so many actors from close quarters. It was only later that one realises how much skill and training is required to be consistently good at this job.”

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