Pyare shrotaon, aap sun rahe hain Akashwani, chimes a female voice from a boxy radio set sitting on a crochet table mat. The voice goes on to describe love on a rainy, redemptive, Mumbai morning. Swati, a middle-aged housewife, is in her balcony, admiring the exchange of glances between a man and a woman on the street, seemingly in love. The whistle of a pressure cooker and her husband calling out to her, break the reverie and bring her back to the reality of her own world.
The radio is switched off and the pressure cooker’s seemingly worn out gasket leaks water out of its vent, as Swati hurries to send her husband to office. The monotony of her life bothers her, and to bring some change, she decides to change the noisy pressure cooker, thinking that it’ll probably turn her life around. Swati is a lonely woman in a teeming metropolis, introduced to the viewers in the opening scene of Heena Dsouza’s short film, Pressure Cooker, that released recently on YouTube.
Set in the ’90s, it has 48-year-old Pallavi Joshi playing the role of Swati, for which Dsouza auditioned several actors. “I saw Pallavi in Renuka Shahane’s Marathi movie Rita, and it struck a chord. I decided she’d be Swati and fortunately all of it — timing, her agreeing to this — worked out,” says Dsouza. Also starring Mukul Chadda, the film attempts to interrelate material objects with relationships, and makes a comparison between people of then and now. The complexity and simplicity of a marriage are described with mere expressions.
In a telephone conversation from Mumbai, Joshi tells us that she agreed to do the film because of its medium. It was a short film and that appealed to her. “In the old long script format, you have to explain a lot. In a short film you don’t have to spoon-feed the audience,” says the actor who is remembered for her roles in films such as Suraj ka Satvan Ghoda and Andha Yudh, and television shows Bharat Ek Khoj, Aarohan, Talash and Alpaviram, among others. Short films, according to Joshi, are a great playground and allow people to experiment. “You are not bound by the commercial aspects of filmmaking, or it doesn’t have to go on and on like in the case of television. Also, there is no censor board that will chop things off.
It’s a free medium,” says Joshi. She adds, “There are two types of cinema that we make in India. One is Hindi films and the other is absolutely commercial cinema. There are a lot of actors out there who are incredible but somehow don’t find their calling in both. Also, unfortunately, you have to look a certain way to be in a Hindi film. If you are glamorous in real life, then you can’t do those Hindi films. For someone like Shefali (Shah) who cannot look like a gareeb girl because she is so glamorous, short films are an interesting alternative.”
Last seen in a full-fledged film role in Rita (2009) and briefly in the Marathi mini series Peshwa Bajirao (2017), the actor took a long break post the ’90s, and was very selective about the roles she took up. “I didn’t want to be at someone else’s beck and call from nine to nine. My kids were really young and I thought what’s the point of having a family if I can’t be around. I thought to myself that people who’ve loved me, won’t forget me,” says Joshi. She did produce two Marathi shows — Asambhav (2008) and Anubandh (2009) — during this period though. “These were projects that I really wanted to do. I felt these stories needed to be told and there weren’t people willing to take the risk,” says Joshi, who also wrote, produced and acted in Aarohan, a television series on Doordarshan in 1996 about women in the Navy.
She rues the non-existence of intelligent content on television shows. “TV shows are suddenly quite bad and unbearable. They now cater to a section of the small town audiences who will watch something that they might not enjoy but are used to. Like bad food,” says Joshi.
Joshi stopped doing television shows at a time when daily soaps were beginning to take over the popular consciousness. She refused the kind of shows that turned actors like Smriti Irani and Sakshi Tanwar into stars. “After watching a bunch of these I realised that the saas bahu thing wasn’t my cup of tea. That’s not what I was here for. I didn’t have the pressure on me to go out there and earn, so I could choose what I wanted to do,” she says. She did question her decision at times though. “The media boom happened when I took a break and I would see television actors splashed all across newspapers and magazines. In the beginning, I felt bad. I would take out my frustration on my husband (Vivek Agnihotri), who was also upset that I had decided to be home. I had taken a huge gamble, but when I came back, I was received well,” says Joshi.
Joshi has also received a positive response for her latest production, the web series Easy Hai, on her YouTube channel, that decodes complicated issues such as GST, surgical strikes and black money with simple analogies and humour. “It is shot in our office and simply told. We were making chocolate analogies with GST. The simplification helped and people actually understood all the complications around tax issues,” says Joshi, who was also in the news in 2015 for refusing to take up the position of a member at Film and Television Institute of India because of the students’ protest against the appointment of actor Gajendra Chauhan as the chief of the institute’s governing council.
She is currently busy producing The Tashkent Files, a crowd-sourced thriller that will revolve around the death of former PM Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent in 1966, and stars Naseeruddin Shah and Mithun Chakravarty. The film is being directed by her husband. “You will definitely see more of me in the times to come,” says Joshi.>