An accomplished Film and Television actress, Ira’s past endeavors include performances in films such as ‘Aisha’ and a host of renowned stage productions. In this exclusive, Ira talks to The Citizen about life, art, politics, theatre, film, her independent road movie ‘M Cream’ and other upcoming projects!

Q. When did you first realize that you wanted to be an actor? Tell us about the early days.

When I first saw my mum perform on stage, I was three years old and was watching from my father’s arms. It was Barry John's production of 'Agnes is God' ironically and I was both mesmerized and mortified. Embarrassingly, I started bawling in the theatre! But at that very moment I witnessed and realized the transformative power of theatre. Soon after I was playing Sita in a kindergarten rendition of the Ramayana at play school, a sheep in a backyard production of 'Charlottes Web' and the baby elephant in a production of 'The Jungle Book'. After that there was no looking back. I went on to act in over 15 productions with my aunt Lushin Dubey's children's theatre company 'Kidsworld' in Delhi and to act, write and direct plays through high school till I finally decided to major in Theatre Studies at Yale University. There was really no other choice, by the time I had finished my education, I knew that I had found my calling!

Q. You belong to a lineage of actors. Was it a struggle to establish your own identity independent of your family?

Indeed I do! And the answer to that would be yes and no. It is marvelous and inspiring to be surrounded by such talent. I have been surrounded by actors (mum, dad, my aunts) from a very young age and began ushering, helping out backstage and giving actors notes before I even turned ten which my mother still likes to tell stories of! The home, hearth and rehearsal spaces over the years have been filled with a creative energy difficult to describe, it's been electric, fiery, crazy and wonderful. Working with my aunt through school, being directed by my mother in over six productions several of which are still running, learning how a production company runs, traveling the globe with my work, has been a hugely gratifying experience and in that sense I am blessed to not only do what I love most but to have my family involved in it too. Some of my best work has been with my mother because she knows how to push me and what my limits are and bouncing and sharing ideas becomes easy too!

That said, both on stage and screen I have tried and will continue to create my own unique identity as Ira, the individual and the actor, because I believe everyone should do that! What people remember finally is your individuality, what makes that one person special, what I have that no one else does, regardless of lineage. Working with directors other than my mother has helped me grow. And I think you have to keep evolving and growing as an artist of any kind, that's the beauty of training for instance, you can do it at any age. This past year I did an intensive summer workshop at Stella Adler and a workshop at Adishakti. I strive to grow in every way I can both within and outside myself and within and outside my family. You have to constantly push and challenge yourself otherwise it's no fun! Film is a medium I still have much to do and prove myself in... The journey there has barely begun! I can only hope I am creating something that will leave a distinctive mark - on stage and screen for posterity. As an artist, that's all you can ask for!

Q. You have performed in both theatre and film. Is there any difference in your approach to the two mediums?

People are very curious about this question and my impulse is to say if you are a talented actor, the medium shouldn't matter. But, sure, yes there are differences and you can master them. There are many fine actors both in India and abroad such as Naseeruddin Shah who straddle both mediums equally well but it's not so easy. I have always said that theatre is more an actors medium, you work for three months or sometimes more as a family guided by your director’s vision but when you are on stage, it's the audience and you, the ball is in your court. In film, it's a whole new ball game! You are a cog in a very large machine and you have to respect that. Your job is to deliver when that camera rolls to when it cuts. The rest isn't really in your hands. The work you do happens off set, in your vanity van or before you start filming with your director and your co-actors and that time is precious. I find it very valuable to get clarity on things then because time is money on a film set and there is no space to discuss much there!

As for method, you employ different skills on stage and on screen. The camera is your best friend as Michael Caine says - she sees it all! You can't lie. I am one of those crazy actors who doesn't lie for even a second on stage or film because I believe that without truth, acting is nothing. Moment to moment truth is the crux of it all. Training yourself to do that - stop and start - sometimes looking at a technician’s arm or a camera lens is challenging and in that sense, I find cinema fascinating and am constantly evolving and learning in that medium. One day I want to direct and write films too. On stage I am alive, comfortable - it's home. I have a lot of experience and I enjoy the live interaction, the graph of a character unfolding in each performance. Playing off of my co-actors and responding to a live audience brings a rush and an experience you can't replicate and that's what makes it exciting each time. But the energy, alertness, intelligence, and commitment I try to bring to my work remains the same in both mediums.

Q. What’s it like to live and work as an actor in Mumbai? Any advice for those looking to break into the industry?

Bombay is a fantastic city. It reminds me of an Indian Manhattan. With Tinsel town thrown in! For actors there is no other place. But it's not easy. You’ve got to be tough, thick-skinned and ready to stay focused and persevere. Sure there are rumors or all kinds of things, about ways and means of getting to the top but that's everywhere! In all parts of the world and in every profession. You can either sit back and complain or confront the way things work and move forward regardless. I am of a school of thought and sensibility where I truly believe good work should speak for itself. Call it old fashioned or idealistic but I do believe that. Social media may be the order of the day but rather than having thousands of followers noting the dress I wear, I focus on work or at least give that priority always. That's just who I am. Often and in today's day and age they go hand in hand. I'm always reprimanded by friends and colleagues to put myself more out there! So yes I do believe you must keep up with the times but never at the cost of compromising on good work.

I think people will always have misconceptions or opinions about you, for instance I'm always trying to break this stereotype of me being a South Bombay glam doll because then you get typecast on those sort of roles particularly in our country and in my profession. So one is always trying to fight that and my theatre work helps with that - I play a Konkani small town girl and an Iraqi activist with equal ease hopefully and am always pushing to explore my range as an actor. You must be aware of your public and private image but it's a very personal thing. How you handle it, how you create a body of work you value and what you are trying to do in your career. I am a transparent person and a very committed actor - that's where it starts for me. The rest falls into place.

My advice to young actors? Go for it. Follow your passion. Dream big, remember where you come from, who you are and where you want to go. Every profession is hard, life is grey, people will gossip, some may be more talented or beautiful or successful but your path is your very own, so fight for it each day and focus on honing your talent and keep working. Go to sleep with a clear conscience and a sense of having achieved something every day. Have a solid support system like I have in a beautiful, strong family and you're on your way. That to me is real success!

Q. What’s your greatest driving inspiration? What keeps you going day to day?

My work, my family, my dog, life, nature, books, travel, food, yoga! I'm a carpe diem kind of girl and I think a positive attitude and a joy for life, being healthy, grounded and as happy as you can be each day, makes all the difference.

Q. Your character in M Cream is an idealistic young woman who is unafraid to speak out against injustice. How did you prepare for this role?

To be honest, when I was first sent the script and read it my initial reaction was, ‘Oh he's going to offer me Maggie’. But I was both thrilled and surprised to discover that it was Jay that the director Agneya Singh wanted me to play. She's quiet, resilient, strong, sensitive and intelligent. I was given the reference of Joan Baez and Agneya and I talked a lot about her character in the early days before we started shooting. Jay is meant to be a counterpoint to our protagonist Figs who comes from an affluent family but rebels against that and what that life represents. He smokes hash, drinks whiskey, writes poetry and believes that no one can change the world and so it's ok to live the life he does. Both are at loggerheads to each other at the beginning of the film and are able to affect each other and bring a change in each other's perspectives through the course of the film.

Jay is more grounded, more idealistic, less willing to experiment than I am but there is an inner strength and a vulnerability to her - in her curiosity and innocence that is rare in young people today. She truly believes she can make a change - revolution with her is personal, vital and can begin with an individual. But she learns through the film and her life as we all do, but instead of disillusionment, she propagates hope and that to me is her most redeeming, most appealing quality. I was intrigued by her and I wanted to retain all the above with a sense of mystery to her core. I love the end of the film which leaves a question dangling in the air and hopefully the audience with a sense of wanting to know more, more about who Jay and Figs become and their relationship which is the heart of the story. I can only hope I have done justice to what Agneya dreamed of when he wrote her!

Q.M Cream has traveled to a host of international film festivals garnering several awards. How validating is it to have your work appreciated internationally?

Oh extremely validating. I am always pleased an surprised and a little embarrassed to hear praise - I work hard and am very committed to the characters I play but my way of work evolves with each project I do. With ‘M Cream’, we were one unit for almost two months working sometimes in not so favorable conditions with a lot of ground to cover. I always told Agneya this was such an ambitious project for his first feature but I think we were all so in tune with giving life to the vision he had. I seldom watched my takes and had one or two difficult moments while shooting but I left myself in the hands of our director, my co-actors and the entire team of very talented, eclectic young people who gave their all to this film. If that shows and is appreciated, I am delighted and the due is and should be for the whole team.

Q.M Cream addresses the concerns of the youth of today. What is the message behind the film?

We are living in a highly globalised, technological, dichotomous age… What happens when you are done with the safety of school and college life, at the precipice where you leave behind the confines of an education and a system and are about to enter the real world? What questions, choices and decisions are important, what matters to you as a young person living in India today? In a rustic, almost primal way, our film questions youth culture including drugs, road trips, growing up, social and cultural differences, coming of age, and rebellion. But it also centers on relationships and that's the heart of it. The four young characters represent a cross section of very identifiable urban youth from Delhi today and people will identify with them hugely. The solace and magnitude of Himachal becomes a character in itself and a connection to ones roots is also central. Are you going to get swept up in a superficial modern wave of city life or are you going to become an individual with a voice, an identity and purpose that goes beyond materialism, beyond your gadgets and gizmos. The simplicity and honesty of the film to me are its strengths. And on a larger, more macro level, set against the backdrop of socio- political issues that envelop the northern hill States of our country, it brings to the fore pressing realities that young people are often very far removed from. It confronts the sense of apathy versus activism we encounter in youth around us. The narrative explores this spectrum and leaves us to decide which characters and who's voice we resonate with.

Q. Any future projects in the works?

Plenty of theatre: A 25-year celebration of my mother’s theatre company with us performing through January and February 2016 across Mumbai at NCPA & Prithvi. My involvement with META, the national theatre awards held in March every year of which my late father was the Creative Director, begins this January and will continue every year. A web series, a new theatre production in August, assisting and acting in my mother’s debut directorial feature film are also all slated for the coming year. I am in talks for two feature films, one a period drama that goes on floor in March and another with a large production house that I haven't signed yet but hope to by February 2016. And lastly, a tour of my one woman show Heather Raffo's ‘9 Parts of Desire’ to Singapore, London and Europe later this year as well.

Q.And lastly, how do you like to unwind after a long day?

A glass of really good red wine, a good movie or book or a delicious meal with friends or family. Or a combination of the above!