Loveleen Mishra in Ismat Apa Ke Naam Part 2 - Kambakth Bilkul Aurat. Mishra plays the title character in the short story Nanhi Ki Nani Image Credit: Courtesy: ADSS

Loveleen Mishra is best known for her portrayal of Preeti aka Chhutki in India’s first soap, Humlog, which began in 1984 and ended the following year.

A college student at the time, Mishra was handpicked to play the avant garde young woman from a middle-class family who aspired to be a doctor. A brilliant performer, Mishra continued working in other TV serials, both as an actor and writer. But she is best known for her roles as an actress and writer in Bollywood films Yuva, Godmother and City of Joy.

But she finds theatre “more satisfying” and will be seen on stage as Nanhi ki nani (Nanhi’s maternal grandmother) this weekend in Naseeruddin Shah’s collage of stories, Ismat Apa Ke Naam Part 2 — Kambakth Bilkul Aurat. Yet she claims she’s nervous.

“Yes, it’s my first performance in the UAE and I have butterflies. Well, that happens to me before every performance. We staged the play two years ago in Lahore and it was extremely well received. It was gratifying to perform somewhere where they understand the language. It was a treat to perform.

“I’m playing the character of Nanhi ki nani, a derelict who lives on the periphery of society. She survives on whatever the mohalla [community] people give her and all she owns is her pillow — actually a pillow case in which she carries her belongings. No one cares for her. No one knows her name. Yet she has this akkad [attitude] about her. She’s pathetic yet funny. It’s amazing to perform such characters written by writers such as Ismat Chugtai and Saadat Hassan Manto.”

For lack of better phrase, Mishra said, it was a dream come true to be directed by Shah.

“There’s a strong paternal quality [about him]. He scolds but grooms. I met him at an interesting time in life. I’d just become a mother and as it is in our society a woman’s role is ultimately to be a wife and mother. But this gave a new direction to my life. Working with him is never one way. It’s never ‘do this, do that’, you need to bring your ideas too. With Naseer bhai it’s as much unlearning as learning”.

Mishra also worked on two radio plays for the BBC, A Suitable Boy and Mrichkatikam. And even though she started with television she said she’s happier writing and conducting acting workshops for children rather than taking on a TV serial just for the sake of it.

“The sheer quantity [on TV] kills quality. It seems more a marketing strategy than art. It’s all about the TRP [television ratings point] which I cannot understand. How come it’s not the criteria in the outside world? In metro India, more and more people are now watching Pakistani serials because not only they carry a better story and performances, they don’t stretch needlessly. Yet, it must be said there are some good stories that relate to the girl child and other social issues, though the percentage is small. So I prefer theatre and mostly work with children, writing stories, conducting storytelling sessions and theatre workshops with Junoon Theatre.

“I’ve worked with good filmmakers, even though it’s not been a large working experience. The reason those roles were offered to me was because they wanted an actress not just a face. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Anurag Kashyap, Govind Nihalini and Mani Ratnam. Working with them, you are given a clear picture of what’s expected of you and you are there because you are worthy of the role.”