You can either be intimidated by him, or you can be awestruck — you have a choice to make, between your fear instinct and excitement, I choose excitement,” says Heeba Shah, about working with her father, Naseeruddin Shah. “He’s worked hard on what he is doing for so many years, and I love that in him. He always stresses on how you can never stop learning the craft,” she continues. Heeba will be in town for a dramatised reading of Beastly Tales — a collection of poems by Vikram Seth, and stories by James Thurber, hosted by India Foundation for the Arts, and sharing the spotlight with her are Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah, and Kenny Desai. Shah’s daughter from his first marriage, Heeba came to India when she was 12. “My mother was an eye doctor in Iran. When I came to India, I didn’t know Hindi, English or Marathi. But that’s okay, everyone learns,” she says. The years have been long, and connections to Iran have faded with time.
“I still have a friend’s address written behind a notebook; I don’t know what to do with it. I’m sure that the place has changed too,” states Heeba, whose first professional stage appearance was in 2001 in Motley’s Ismat Aap ke Naam. She was also seen in director Mahesh Dattani’s Mango Souffle (2002), her debut feature film, and Reelism Films’ Missed Call. “Acting is my first love, and it doesn’t matter if it happens through TV, films or theatre,” says the NSD graduate.
But if she had to choose, films and theatre would be her bets. “The funny thing is that I’ve worked for over 10 years in theatre and films, but people recognise me mainly from my TV role,” she says, talking about her role as young Dadisa in the Hindi drama series Balika Vadhu. While she was still in school, Heeba started working with Motley. “It was almost 22 years ago that I first got paid for the backstage work I was doing; I got Rs.350,” she shares.
Talking about Beastly Tales, she says, “Dad is a big fan of Vikram Seth’s poems. He likes James Thurber a lot too. This is his selection. Sets and costumes add to storytelling in theatre. But when it’s poetry reading, you have to give it as much attention as you’d give to a novel. Words are important, and we rehearse a lot to get it right, because it’s only how you say those words that you tell the story.” A favourite from the collection, she says, is the story of the eagle and the beetle.
“It’s about how the meek fight back,” she signs off.