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Interview: Mamata Shankar on Her First Radio-Play

Excerpts of an exclusive conversation with the veteran performer Mamata Shankar, as caught up with her backstage after an electrifying performance.
Interview of Mamata Shankar
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Actor Mamata Shankar performed a sruti-natok (radio-drama) on stage at a Kolkata auditorium along with actor Paran Bandopadhyay for a drama fest last month. This was part of the series of G20 cultural events organised by the Director General, Akashvani in September 2023. Excerpts of an exclusive conversation with the veteran performer Mamata Shankar, as Showli Chakraborty caught up with her backstage after an electrifying performance.

Showli: Why did you decide to do a radio-drama on stage at this stage in your career?

Mamata Shankar: I’ve been associated with All India Radio for a long time. When Yuvavani was launched for the first time I did a lot of projects on radio with my brother, Ananda Shankar. It has been almost a life-long association and I have a lot of memories of the place. AIR always spells great bouts of nostalgia for me. Everyone at the office has been so nice and caring that it feels like a second home whenever I come here. It’s like meeting an old friend and reminiscing memories.

Showli: Please tell us more about the days when you performed with Ananda Shankar at AIR….

Mamata Shankar: My dada (elder brother) had a troupe of dancers and I was one of them. I used to perform a song or two for the troupe. My boudi (sister-in-law), Tanusree Shankar was also part of the troupe. There were numerous other dancers and we were all working together under the guidance of my brother Ananda Shankar. Together we have performed all over the world. It was not just dance, it was song and dance. That is how we came in close association with AIR at that time. Those were wonderful days.

Mamata Shankar and Paran Bandyopadhyay with Anannya Majumdar, Program Executive, AIR Kolkata, drama department

Showli: Apart from being a performer, you are also a listener. Do tell us about your memories of AIR as a listener.

Mamata Shankar: Oh, the memories are endless…. When we were growing up, radio was the only means of entertainment. We didn’t have anything else. My father had a transistor which he kept with him at all times. He used to take it along with him wherever he went. No one was allowed to touch it, as it was very precious to him. Programs like Vividh Bharati, Chayachobir Gaan, etc were favourites at our home. Also, sometimes my father allowed us to listen to the radio-plays and songs. But just before the news of the day went on air, I had to give it back to him. It was my job to tune into the channel where the news was being aired.
It so happened that a layer of dust accumulated near the base of the transistor. So every time I moved the transistor, without his permission, from its designated spot on the table, my father would invariably catch me. He knew almost instinctively about who had done this just by looking at the layer of dust. What happened was whenever the device was moved, there was a shift in the layers of the dust. He would invariably sneak in behind me and catch me with his beloved radio. Obviously, I got a lot of scolding for this, but it never stopped me from sneaking into the room again to borrow the transistor.

Showli: Were you fond of radio plays?

Mamata Shankar: Yes, I was really into radio plays throughout my career. I used to wait for the plays that were played on the radio at 8pm every evening. Even if we went out we always made sure there was a portable radio nearby, so that we could listen to the plays. This is my first radio play with AIR and I am glad we could do this project together as part of the G20 programmes. This has given artistes all over Bengal to find a national platform to showcase their talent.
Showli: What do you think of the new age transition of radio waves into the internet? Do you listen to the radio on your phone or on the AIR app?
Mamata Shankar: I am very old fashioned that way. I’m not internet savvy at all. In fact, I don’t even know how to listen to radio programmes on the internet. I suppose this is something I will have to learn sooner or later. The fact that there is a Youtube channel for AIR is news to me. I will definitely try listening to it, especially when I am travelling out of Kolkata.

Images courtesy: Wikimedia Commons, Debasis Mitra, Akashvani Kolkata

A writer, journalist and radio presenter based in Kolkata.

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