Shubhra Prakash (actress/writer)
Technology defines modern progress, but at what cost? As society takes on a different shape, do we lose the culture that defines who we are as a people? How do we determine what to preserve and what to revolutionize?
Indian American actress-writer Shubhra Prakash
takes audiences on a journey of innovation, preservation, and self-discovery with her one-woman show “Fontwala.”
The story follows an immigrant woman who returns to India after 20 years to cover a story about her uncle, the designer of the first Anglo Nagari keyboard for the computer. It’s a tale of art meets commerce meets humanity.
Shubhra has been acting and creating projects on a variety of mediums, including film, stage, comic books and more. She is an activist for social change, inclusion, and equality using her artistic endeavors to shed light on these important issues.
Shubhra Prakash recently answered some questions for FanPop:
Tell us about your one-woman show “Fontwala.”
Shubhra Prakash: For many languages, the journey from paper to screens has not been a simple one. There have been many struggles on the way to the digital realm and I tell one such story through my play “Fontwala.”
“Fontwala” as a title is a mix of the English word Font and Hindi word Wala, which means someone who brings something to you, in this case Fonts. It is a result of my conversations and travels with my uncle who is a font designer and typographer of Indian scripts. He created one of the first software’s that allowed for an Indian script to be typed on the computer. I perform the play by telling the story of how he as a young man painting advertisements on the walls of a city in Northern India found his way to designing fonts for the computer. He had never even seen a computer ‘til later in his life. In the late 90s was when the computers were first introduced in India.
Along with his story, I tell my story as an Indian American traveling to India after about two decades of living in the U.S. as an immigrant. I show the transformation I feel by revisiting my motherland.
What inspired you to create this show?
SP: The character Fontwala is based on my uncle, Rajeev Prakash, who is an artist and the actual typographer who developed the first Anglo-Nagari keyboard. He is the first artist from my family who walked that path, and then this path led to becoming an entrepreneur. When I started diving into these three questions came up and they kept inspiring me to keep going:
“What remains of the artist who becomes an entrepreneur?”
“What remains of the aesthetic of a language digitized?”
“What remains of a dream of returning to one’s homeland to live in after 20 years in the west?”
For those who might not understand, what is the importance of Fontwala’s innovation?
SP: English has 26 alphabet characters. We are accustomed to using an English keyboard but what happened when computers started to be utilized worldwide and this keyboard landed in places where along with English, hundreds of other languages exist? How did they take to typing on the English keyboard?
Fontwala designed a program that would place Hindi characters on the English keyboard. This was challenging because Hindi far more than 26 characters. For example, you say K for Kangaroo in English in Hindi there 4 different sounds for K, so every letter in English has many others in Hindi and that’s just ONE language of India. India has many languages.
Fontwala solved the problem of typing Hindi using the English keyboard. He made room for all the characters.
Any interesting stories from behind the scenes of this show that you’d like to share with us?
SP: I had a lot of material from the research for the play, so we did an exhibition with videos and animations. My uncle also did live calligraphy demonstrations, writing the names of the guests in calligraphy while people also got to try out writing it themselves as well. There was a woman, Natasha, from Italy. She beautifully wrote her name in Hindi in calligraphy and was thrilled because she had been trying to learn the language. There are many accounts on how the stories for the play came to be, some of which I cover in the solo play itself.
What do you hope audiences take away from “Fontwala”?
SP: I hope audiences are motivated to look around them. In their own family or chosen family, I bet they will find someone who inspires their own journey. I am discovering the power of telling stories rooted in personal histories, realizing that there are many superheroes amongst us who deserve artists to take their stories to tell them to the world.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned from working on this project?
SP: This project was in the works when the pandemic hit all our lives. I learned to never give up on the stories, to find a way, to find solutions and to push through. As an artist it’s a privilege to have the imagination we do, it’s a powerful thing, nurture the imagination and just keep swimming.
And, now just for fun:
Who’s your favorite actor/actress?
SP: Helena Bonham Carter, she is wild, funny, crazy, empathic and she exudes mystery.
What role from the past do you wish you could have played?
SP: Trinity in “The Matrix.” I think that’s past enough.
Favorite movie, TV series or theater show from your childhood.
SP: I grew up in India ‘til I was thirteen, so most of my favorites are from India at a time I had limited exposure to American entertainment. However, there is an older movie musical based on “A Christmas Carol,” the 1976 “Scrooge” with Albert Finney in it. I loved the way they told the timeless tale with music.
Tell us one thing that would surprise our readers to learn about you.
SP: I am also a comic book writer and have contributed three comics to the Priya’s Shakti series. I wrote “Priya’s Mask” during the pandemic, that was covered by NPR and BBC. “Priya’s Swarm” addressed effects of digital media takeover in the lives of teenagers in India.
How can fans keep up with you?
SP: The gram, you can follow me on @sh000bz.artist link
"Fontwala" a one-woman show by Shubhra Prakash
"Fontwala" visual poetry
Anglo Nagari keyboard