HYDERABAD: The name Vaishali Bisht has been synonymous with the Hyderabad theatre circuit for decades now. Be it as one of the co-founders of the Hyderabad Children’s Theatre Festival or as an actor in White Rabbit Red Rabbit, an internationally acclaimed, award-winning play by Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour. But recently she has been basking in the limelight for the portrayal of Mehrunnisa, an elderly Dakhni-speaking khansama (cook) who operates a cooking school in the Hindi crime comedy series Killer Soup streaming on Netflix. Manoj Bajpayee, Konkona Sen Sharma and Naseer star in the crime caper directed by Abhishek Chaubey.
Talking about how Killer Soup happened, Vaishali says, “One of my colleagues from theatre recommended my name to the casting director Pooja Hegde who runs Bangalore Casting Company. She was looking for somebody for the character of Mehrunnisa. So, she reached out to me and I sent an audition. I had a Zoom call with the director, and then I got cast. This was during the pandemic and I had the opportunity to travel, which I liked.” Further adding about her experience on the set, she says, “It was absolutely amazing on the set, I had so much fun. They were all so lovely and quality conscious. In fact, they all kept on warning me that not all film sets are like this, you’re just lucky.”
Even though Vaishali is a regular in the theatre circuit, she had been missing from the silver screen for a while. “I’ve normally avoided screen work conscientiously throughout my career when I was younger. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is due to nonsensical roles I would get offered as a young woman. And the other was, I was extremely camera conscious. I took up this offer as it was during lockdown and no theatre was happening. Going ahead too, I will take up screen work only if I feel it’s good,” she shares.
Portraying a character like Mehrunnisa which has lots of layers and that too with a distinct body language is no mean task. “I did a lot of work prior to reaching the set like research, dialogue delivery, along with physical work — body language of the character. It is very difficult and nuanced to get the right pronunciation of the Dakhni dialect. I had a lot of help. In my book, if an actor disappears into a character, there’s nothing like it. And I’ve struggled all my life with that. Whenever I have performed, people can generally recognise me and that irritates me no end. But with Mehrunnisa I could just disappear,” says Vaishali.
Elaborating on her decades-long journey in theatre, she says, “I have recently realised that it’s a love affair and it’s been the most satisfying, fulfilling love affair that I’ve had in my life. I haven’t gotten bored of it yet. It’s never disappointed me or betrayed me in any way or hurt me in any way that is unrecoverable from. And now in this last year, I’ve also been part of the Manam Theatre Festival as part of the team. I did a small role again in Qubool Hai?, a webseries on aha.”
Over the last two years, Vaishali has been a part of an initiative of a Mumbai-based theatre group called Gillo, called Gillo on the Go. “We have created plays and taken them to villages in Uttarakhand for children in government schools, which is the state my dad hails. They moved there just before the pandemic. That’s something we will again be doing this year around September and October,” concludes Vaishali.