'Nautanki is in my blood'
A 13-year-old, who is making waves in Mumbai's theatre circuit, on why acting with adults is effortless
Simone Talreja, a student of Goregaon's Oberoi International School, has never feared the stage. At the age of three, she enthralled shoppers at a Gurgaon mall by climbing onto a makeshift arena during Christmas celebrations and breaking into an impromptu jig.
A decade later, her fascination with the stage continues. The 13-year-old dabbles in professional theatre, just like her father, adman Navin Talreja, who is the brain behind the Fogg and Carvaan ads. "Nautanki is in my blood," she jokes. She watched her first play at Prithvi Theatre when she was five years old. "It was called Ravanleela and I remember it was hilarious." Later, as a family, they would watch movies almost every weekend. Actors fascinated her, she says. "I always wondered about their lives, and the kind of efforts that went into what they did."
Her first professional play was the Indian adaptation of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None in 2017, where she played the role of Mrs Rogers, the housekeeper of the hotel. Until then, Talreja had only acted in school plays, but was fairly well-versed with the nuances of performance in terms of posture, tone and dialogue, courtesy the drama school—affiliated with the Trinity College of London—where she was training. "Frankly, it [Mrs Rogers] wasn't a big role, but for me, it was a big deal. Performing at St Andrews auditorium in front of 200 people is different from doing a school play. It did put a lot of pressure on me and forced me to work ten times harder."
Her efforts have borne fruit. In the last two years, she has starred in several plays, including Neil Simon's Rumours and Agatha Christie's Go Back For Murder. She often gets invited to auditions and readings of the new plays as part of the selection process. "If the director likes how I read out the assigned part, I'm roped in," she says.
Simone Talreja in Go Back For Murder
Her most challenging role though, was playing Nancy Lakdawala in The Woman On Trial—it also starred her father—based on Ayn Rand's Night of January 16th. Here, she essayed a young widow mourning her husband's death. "The character is emotionally unstable. It was tough because it was an unusual character, and there was nobody who could set the right example for me and help me understand how to get into her shoes. I had to train myself to think about something devastating on stage. Nailing it took long."
Acting alongside adults, she says, has been a blessing in disguise. Primarily because "everyone knows what to do". "We get into character 15 minutes before we begin rehearsals, and from there on, it's smooth sailing." Her own method of prepping involves observing those whose role she has to play. "If I have to play a teacher, I'd observe how teachers in my school would interact with one another and the students."
But no matter how well-prepared one might be, there's no evading the pre-performance jitters. Battling the fear of going blank on stage is part of the drill, she says. "I don't panic or react. I just take it as it comes and calm myself down before I have to start delivering my lines."
As the pressure of academics looms, the teen is feeling the heat. "Managing school and theatre is far from easy. I study on the way to the location, and on the way back as well. Once I reach home, even if it's at 1 am, which has been the case on multiple occasions, I stay up finishing my homework." No matter how passionate she is about theatre, Talreja says academics will always be priority.
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