One of my main projects here at Salaam Bombay Foundation is to make a video on girl empowerment through the efforts of the organization. While this is undoubtedly an interesting topic, capturing the stories of girls was tough. Seven girls were chosen to be featured on the video. However, in the process of getting to know these girls, two of them inspired me to see life and career differently. Although they are very young, they made me realize, yet again, that talent isn’t a privilege.
This blog features Priyanka, whose positive energy will fill you with confidence.
20 years old Priyanka Kotwal can be called a small packet of fire. She comes across as an extremely confident girl who has worked her way through numerous struggles. Sporting a dimpled smile, Priyanka is effervescent and is the kind of individual who would make someone’s day. However, her story comes across as no less than a fiction flick.
As we start talking, the first memory that Priyanka talks about is that of her mother. Her mother wanted her to become an all-rounder in school and thus would be very persistent at overseeing her studies and other co-curricular activities. Her mother, once, fought with the class teacher when Priyanka was made to sit on the last bench. Priyanka idolises her mother and says that if it weren’t for her, she would have never worked hard in life. However, tragedy struck: her mother slipped into coma for a year and passed away when Priyanka was in the 8th grade. She came back to stay with her father and was brought up by her grandmother. Although the death of her mother came as a huge blow to her, she was determined to move on with the conviction and work ethic that her mother inculcated in her.
This was the time when Salaam Bombay Foundation’s Theatre Academy came knocking at Priyanka’s door Priyanka says that she never thought she would get into theatre. Singing had always been her hobby, and for the preliminary auditions, Priyanka sang her favourite Marathi ‘kombdi palali’. As fate would have it, Priyanka enrolled in the Theatre Academy and thus began her journey towards a bright future. Even today, she is thankful to the Theatre Academy of Salaam Bombay Foundation for bringing out the actor in her and making her realize her career path. She has performed in numerous places as a stage actor. She says theatre not only made her confident about herself but was also an escape from her daily struggles. “Main sab bhool jaati hoon jab stage par aati hoon. Bas character aur dialogues hi yaad rehte hain” (I forget everything when I am on stage. I only remember the character and the dialogues), says Priyanka.
Priyanka’s father remarried and she is not on good terms with her stepmother, who, Priyanka says, doesn’t support her, at all. Her step-mother once told her father that she should either stay at home or continue theatre, to which Priyanka told her father that she is ready to leave home but she won’t leave theatre. However, her father does support her most of the time and she says her father is her weakness, as she still tries to seek his acknowledgement in her work. About pursuing an unconventional path, she says that her relatives in the village say that what she is doing is something new for the family and she should continue her work.
Priyanka played an important role in the theatrical adaptation of the famous Hindi classic Chalti ka Naam Gaadi by Salaam Bombay Foundation. She recalls that on the day of the show, just before she had to go on stage to recite her lines, she had an emotional moment because her step-mother left the theatre without even seeing the full play and after much request by Priyanka her father stayed back. Despite this incident, Priyanka went on stage and performed her best. She says her personal struggles have made her into a person that she is today, and she is proud of them. She is happy that her father now realises her potential and even though her step-mother doesn’t want her to pursue theatre, her father supports her in the decision.
Today, Priyanka is the amazingly confident person who lives in the present. She has completed her Bachelors in Commerce from Shree Bhausahab Vartak College in Borivali and plans to do a Masters in performing arts. She is a brilliant Master of Ceremonies and loves dubbing. She hopes to become a professional stage actress; her favorite play is ‘Tii Phularani’, a Marathi play directed by theatre actor Bhakti Barve. Upon asking what her favorite role is, she says it will be something that will challenge her effervescent personality. She said that she knows it will be difficult for her to play a character that contradicts her real-life personality, but she would perform it with excellence. Singing is still a hobby. She didn’t take any professional training for it.
In addition, she also conducts puppet shows with the Mina Naik’s puppetry group . The specialty here is that they create their own puppets from scratch. She hopes to continue puppeteering because she loves the kids for whom she initially started doing puppetry. She also used to be an assistant trainer for the Salaam Bombay Theatre Academy. Priyanka says she has always been extremely lucky to have friends and teachers who supported her unconditionally. Although she had very little encouragement for her family, she still made it big for herself. She was born with the talent which wasn’t a privilege, but very innate to her.
“Kaise ho didi? Kya chal raha hai?”
(How are you didi? What is going on?)
Priyanka will always ask me how I am whenever she is in the Salaam Bombay Foundation office and every time I am left spellbound by the energy in her voice. When I asked if she wants to tell me something else she said, with a chuckle, “Main jab successful actor ban jaungi, main aapse wapas milungi aur apni yeh audio recording fir se sunungi” (When I become a successful actor, I would want to meet you again and listen to this audio recording of mine).
Priyanka taught me to have faith in the work one loves and perseverance to reach one’s goal in life!
 Meena Naik is a world renowned puppeteer and children’s theatre director in addition to being a very successful theatre, film and T.V. actress and costume designer.