Of theatrics and acts with Nataliya Karanji

  • 21 Dec - 27 Dec, 2019
  • Attiya Abbass
  • Interview

Afternoon’s balmy sun was a blessing last week, as Karachi settled into its fresh gusts of chilly winds. Nataliya and I decided to warm up to the weather and sat crossed-legged on the lawn. In front of me, peeking through the stunted trees was NAPA’s iconic building with flocks of birds soaring above it. Our meeting comes mere two weeks before ‘the performance’ everyone at the performing academy is thrilled about – Zia Mohyeddin’s theatrical adaption of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Translated into Urdu by the veteran Khalid Ahmad – who plays the king too – it sees Nataliya playing the role of Cordelia, Lear’s youngest daughter. “Nataliya is a Zorastian name,” my interviewee answer my first query.

She tucks a curly strand back into a rich burgundy mane as she begins, “I was pursuing a career in accountancy before theatre found me. It was much later that I realised that I am more inclined towards the creative side, and crunching numbers is not something I can do for the rest of my life,” she explains. “I used to wonder, ‘why am I wasting so much of my parents’ money in pursuing something I am not good at?’ It came as a shock to my parents when I decided to leave behind accountancy and move into performing arts. There is a social stigma attached to certain professions being supreme, while others being a waste of time.”

After performing in scores of theatrical adaption – including the hit Jaza Saza from last year – Nataliya finally thinks she has found her trajectory in life. She was also part of a significant role in a commercial campaign post APS tragedy, where she played a teacher which was made a victim of acid attack. “I discovered my love for dancing in childhood. It was a talent I had by default but only recently realised I can hone it well. I wasn’t too confident about my acting skills, but it is something I enjoy so much that I decided to stick with it.” As our conversation rolls on she introspects that it was a matter of destiny that she discovered performing arts at the right time in her life. “The satisfaction I get as a performer in the theater is truly unlike anything I have ever felt. Yes, I have faced a lot of criticism when I took this decision, majorly from family and society but it made me wonder… Fifty years from now, I would not want to live with any regrets of not pursuing what my heart truly desired.”

Theatre is considered a dying medium in Pakistan, with the state being at crossroads about whether to sustain it with funds and awareness, or just banish it altogether. “As a theatrical actor I am still in my struggling period. I am aware there are many fine actors out there. I do feel I have to face constant demotivation in terms of lagging behind in this career that I have chosen for myself. But I believe if you put your hard work in anything, your passion… you will definitely succeed one day and it will all truly pay-off eventually.” As an actor is she selective about her work, I wonder. Does she opts out of certain roles she feels she won’t be able to perform to perfection? “Whatever the role it is, even if it’s a small one, it should have substance to it and should be a respectable one,” she says. “Yes there are certain limitations for every girl in terms of dressing and character-and a few other things but I haven’t got a chance to perform a role which violates my boundaries many people assert that performers don’t have boundaries but I feel everybody has a boundary they push only to a certain extent.” Nataliya confesses to being a reserved person but she is quick to morph into bold roles when given one. What challenges did she have to overcome in order to perform on the theatre? “When I first came here my Urdu was bad as we speak Gujrati at home. So I faced difficulty in delivering certain Urdu dialogues. I owe a lot to Sir Zia who coached me with the pronunciations. I did not face any stage fright though. I also had to work on my vocals because I felt during my earlier performance my voice seemed a bit childish to me. For instance if I am portraying an angry character, my voice didn’t quite meet the high pitch the role demands.” But does a young and ambitious actor like herself, wants to work in other mediums like films, dramas? “Yes I want to. Because let’s face the facts... people don’t want to spend money to watch theatre anymore. Only a few, who have the taste and love for it would purchase a ticket worth Rs 1000. Others feel that they’d rather spend the same amount on food or in a cinema because people don’t understand the value of theater. It’s lamentable that masses at large think of theater as a standup comedy.” How can people of all ages, herself included who are passionate about the performing arts, can play their part in sustaining theater? “In a country like Pakistan where people don’t understand the concept of theater we should promote it more. Build more platforms for it. For instance at NAPA, we only have two good auditoriums with good acoustics. We have a wealth of talent here which needs a stage.” When I ask her about a performance closest to her heart, Nataliya confesses that it would be from King Lear. “Other than that, last year I performed in a play called Bari. I played the role of a girl called Jamila who was a murderer. I loved my role not because she was a murderer but because she stood up for what was right.” •