In the play, Pune Highway, in a seedy hotel room beside the Mumbai-Pune expressway, a waiter, Sakharam, comes in and says, “Maal a raha hai. Quality maal (A beautiful girl is coming along).” Before the three friends — Nicholas Thomas, Vishnu and Pramod Khandelwal — could realise what he was saying, Mona strides in. She is wearing a striking-red halter neck top, cut at the midriff and tight white trousers. She has sunglasses in her hair and is wearing bright red lipstick. After a brief dialogue, Mona has a vomiting sensation and rushes to the bathroom.
When she returns, her lover Pramod asks, “Are you okay?”
“I want some water,” she says.
“Mona, are you??” wonders Pramod.
“Am I what? A Cancerian? A professor? A fitness designer?”
“Ask the question Prammy,” says Mona.
Suddenly, Vishnu says, “Why have you vomited? Is it some bad food you ate late night or are you carrying his bastard child?”
“Pramod, I am pregnant,” says Mona, with a smile.
The Mumbai-based theatre actress Yamini Namjoshi plays Mona. She excels in this small role which she says “is a mix of vulnerability and power, a bit like myself.” A day earlier, at the JT Performing Arts Centre in Kochi, she impressed in playing Pooja Thomas, a young woman who helps run a Mumbai-based English-language theatre company, in the play Me, Kash and Cruise.
Namjoshi got interested in acting during her schooling at the JB Petit High School for Girls in Mumbai. “The [late] principal Shireen Darasha was incredible for her passion for the arts,” she says. “She wanted to expose us to a variety of art forms, science, literature, travel and culture. Theatre was a very big part of it, since Shireen Maam was a great lover of it.” Namjoshi and her classmates acted in plays under the direction of theatre luminaries like the late Pearl Padamsee. Namjoshi pursued acting in college festivals while studying at St Xavier’s College. Thereafter, in 1997, she went for a four-year course in visual arts at the Ohio Wesleyan University, USA. “I also did a minor in theatre,” she says, recalling she had a role in Antigone, the classic by Sophocles, and several other plays. After graduating in 2001, she worked for a year at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. “It is one of the most respected theatre companies in America,” she says. “I worked as an assistant to established stage managers.”
Namjoshi also had a chance to see established thespians like Olympia Dukakis — who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Moonstruck, and Diane Venora from close quarters. “They were amazing,” says Namjoshi. “They did a lot of research on the character and the time period. They just did not arrive and act. During rehearsals, they worked from 9 am to 7 pm. When the play opened, somebody like Diane continued studying and reading about her character. I would look at her and think, ‘This is dedication. Every day is a new day. There is no end to the discovery of your character. In theatre, the search for the depths of one’s character is a never-ending process’.”
She has been a regular actress in Mumbai’s thriving theatre circuit. Some of the plays she acted in include Girish Karnad’s Hayavadan, Sheridan’s A School for Scandal, and The Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht. And then she met, fell in love, and got married to the actor Purab Kohli in 2007. “Unfortunately, things did not work out, and we have split up,” says Namjoshi. Asked about her future plans, she says, “I want to do stage design. It would be an apt coming together of my visual arts and theatre background.”