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Deevya Arora prepares to play an iconic character on stage from her wheelchair

For years Deevya Arora has dipped into her own experience living with a disability to help Bollywood directors bring authenticity to disabled characters on screen in films like Barfi and Guzaarish. Now this entertainment professional is set to make her presence felt onstage by playing a disabled character in a play by the renowned Mahesh Dattani.

Be it Hrithik Roshan as a paralysed magician in Guzaarish or Priyanka Chopra as a young woman with autism in Barfi, Deevya Arora has helped add an authentic touch to many iconic protagonists with disabilities on cinema.

This weekend the Mumbai-based entertainment professional, is set to make her presence felt on stage in Tara, a play written by Mahesh Dattani 30 years ago, way before he knew Deevya.

"When I first met Deevya 16 years ago she called herself my Tara", recalls Mahesh. "I can understand why now. She has the same indomitable spirit, full of pride, utterly void of self-pity. It was like meeting my creation".

Uncanny similarities

Tara is about conjoined twins, Tara and Chandan, who are separated by surgery. Tara has to battle biases regarding gender and disability. Like Tara, the character she plays, Deevya is disabled except that she has cerebral palsy. The parallels, as Sohaila Kapur, the play co-director with Deevya says, don't end there.

"Deevya is reliving her life in the play. We later found out how much her life is following that of Tara's be it her family situation or health issues. Even more amazing is their common spirit and fight to survive", says Sohaila. Mahesh says Deevya relates to Tara's spirit, "this never-say-die attitude, a wanting to go on. She does not think of herself as a victim, like the character she plays".

Deevya, who is also a filmmaker, writer and lyricist, found the role a challenge as she is mostly known for her comedies. She is aware that in this role she is making history given that disabled characters are mainly played by non-disabled actors.

I am aware that I will be shattering a stereotype and it is high time it was broken. It is ridiculous to have non-disabled actors play these parts. Take Anushka Sharma in Zero for instance. She is portraying what I actually have so why not me? Why Anushka? There's a big difference between acting and performing. Avenues and opportunities have to be open to all in all aspects of entertainment, be it acting or direction. - Deevya Arora, Entertainment professional

Deevya brings an added richness to the part of Tara, says Mahesh, "a certain quality of truth that comes from personal experience. Deevya is also an actor so it makes a difference in getting to the truth of the character".

From the head mike to the wheelchair, everything Deevya will use on stage has been integrated with her role so she flows with it. "These aids are extensions to her body, and she moves with them", says Sohaila. The play she hopes, will change, will change the way Indians look at disability and people with disabilities.

"Indians at large tend to regard the disabled community as a bother, they don't exist for them and see them as an inconvenience. Look at how the community is fighting with the government for access. That's an issue we are tacking as well. Here we have people who are reaching out to do therr best, but we doing nothing to reach out to them".

Tara will be staged at Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre on 7 and 8 September, 7.30 PM. Book your tickets here.

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