At the age of four, she played Cupid in her lower kindergarten talent show. That’s 27-year-old Meher Mistry’s first memory of being on stage. Her journey from that moment to starring as Belle in Disney India’s Beauty and the Beast musical has been an exciting one.
Growing up in Mumbai, Meher was always inclined towards art. She graduated in 2009 from Jai Hind College, where she read History and Psychology. In 2011, she performed in her her first professional production – The Sound of Music in Mumbai.
HerStory caught up with Meher in between rehearsals to know more about her work, her association with theatre, and her role as Belle. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
Taking to the stage
I’ve loved being on stage since I was a kid. But, I don’t think I ever seriously considered becoming a professional actor until I was about 21. In 2009, after completing my graduation, I went to work at B Street Theatre in Sacramento in the US. It was my uncle’s venture and the three months working as an assistant stage manager made me realise that theatre made me happy and I wanted to continue with it. I felt a sense of belonging and being.
I came back to India from the US and spoke to a few people about it. They told me to go and watch more theatre and meet young groups who were doing theatre. It was difficult initially, but I managed to get my foot in the door. After I bagged my first role, it was a case of work leading to more work.
There is a lot of opportunity to work in theatre and it’s not confined to just acting. In fact, I feel that an actor who has worked with other aspects of theatre such as backstage, production, and props understands the medium better.
Over the years, I’ve gotten to be a part of some wonderful shows. My first professional show in Mumbai was The Sound of Music. Shows I am currently a part of besides Disney India’s Beauty and the Beast, are Sunil Shanbag’s Stories in a Song and Rangbaaz Theatre’s James Aur ek Giant Peach. I also continue to have an association with the B Street Theatre.
I’ve been singing since I was a child. Through the various projects I’ve worked on, I’ve been lucky to work with some wonderful vocal coaches. We worked with Suzanne D’mello on Beauty and the Beast. On my own, I have trained with the wonderful Deirdre D’cunha, who runs the Celia Lobo Academy of Voice in Mumbai.
On being Belle in the Beauty and the Beast
I got the part after a three-round audition process. It ended with an audition workshop with our director, Vikranth Pawar. Our prep for the show involved a lot of hard work and focus. We were doing 10-12 hour days right from the get-go. Our days were filled with vocal lessons, dance, and choreography and acting sessions. We also went through quite a physical fitness regimen to get our stamina up so that we had the energy to get through the show.
On the divide between theatre and movies
I think the main difference is that theatre just doesn’t garner the same audiences that films do. People are much more willing to spend on a movie tickets than go watch a piece of theatre. And for that reason, the resources and funding available to theatre groups is far less. But now with Disney India’s Beauty and the Beast musical, we hope to see a change as they have introduced a new format of entertainment for the audiences in the country.
Technology and theatre
It is amazing how technology has changed the world. There are so many avenues that have opened up, there is so much to access, and it has only opened more possibilities and opportunities. There is so much space to create and innovate.
I think technology only impacts for the better. The kind of technology that has been used for Beauty and the Beast is absolutely amazing.
Every time I’ve involved myself in something new and out of my comfort zone, I’ve learnt something. Things that have not only helped hone my skills, but also taught me things about my capabilities and myself. Every time I have explored the unknown, I have faced many challenges. And I’ve found that the only way to overcome a challenge is to be resilient and to be open to failing at it. The harder you try, the more you realise that nothing is insurmountable.
Learning, unlearning and relearning
Each time you get on to the stage to perform, it is a unique experience. Theatre gives you the opportunity to image and create. You work on the characters and the roles, and there is so much that you can add from your own learning and knowledge.
What I love most about theatre is that there is a huge scope for learning. You learn, unlearn and relearn continuously and things are constantly changing around you. And to this process you add from your own treasure chest of knowledge to develop your own unique technique or formula.
As an artist, it is essential to keep an open mind and an open heart as an artist. It is all about telling the story in the most honest and open way you know.
The road ahead
Yes, I am open to working in movies. I would love to explore what the medium, has to offer. I am not a person who plans things in advance so I am enjoying what I am doing and look forward to many more roles and interesting projects in the future. I like to take one step at a time and the future is full of wonderful possibilities. I would love to travel, explore cultures, learn a new languages and meet artists from other countries. The plan it to stay busy for that is what keeps me motivated and going.