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The one people love to hate

india Updated: Aug 10, 2008 23:21 IST
Kumkum Chadha
Kumkum Chadha
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Wht Tulsi? What has she done except portray the Indian woman in the worst possible manner.” Often heard from Tulsi baiters, particularly women’s organisations who will never forgive her for the “I kiss the ground you walk on” image of the Indian housewife. Their objection is not to husband loyalty but the subservience that comes with it. In other words suffering in silence via glycerine bottles...

“But of course Tulsi. Who else but her? She keeps us glued to the TV.” Often heard from fans who bless her. She has, they say, bettered her creator Ekta Kapoor because if Ekta changed the face of Indian TV, Tulsi worked as the adhesive which largely helped her do that. “It was because of Tulsi that one started watching serials” they say..

Vacillating between the why and but of course Tulsi, is Smriti Irani who in the course of her rocky journey, made more foes than friends, invited wrath and praise and dabbled in politics and direction while pursuing acting on the small screen. Consequently she became a household name and invoked divided opinion even within cohesive families.

Malhotra ki beti

She grew up as one and got tired of being referred to as her father’s daughter. Mention him and Smriti aka Tulsi wants her father kept out: “Don’t make him a villain,” she pleads. But the fact is that despite her mini battles with her father, it is because of him that Smriti emerged.

Smriti’s father (a certain Mr Malhotra) never encouraged her. He saw her as average and certainly not stuff successful people are made of. He was also fiercely protective of her. Therefore, one day, when she walked home all by herself, without waiting for her car, hell broke loose. Later as his employee in the family-run courier company, when she got a raise, her colleagues smirked: “Malhotra ki beti ko nahin milega to aur kise…..? (If Malhotra’s daughter does not get a raise, who else will?)

Selling shampoo and mopping floors

But before all this Smriti had set up a makeshift shop in Janpath’s shopping area in New Delhi. She had other pavement dwellers for company who could not figure out what an educated young teenager was doing on the streets. She was all of 16 (years) then. While others sold hair clips and safety pins, Smriti set up a herbal cream counter. Later she mopped floors at McDonalds. She appeared for the Miss India contest but never made it. Even the pressure cooker advertisement for which she auditioned did not select her because she lacked the “Indian housewife look”. It is a quirk of fate that today hers is the face with which millions of housewives across the country identify.

Yet she sees herself as a “mere entertainer” who can rule hearts rather than minds. This perhaps drove her to politics where she failed to transform her star charisma into votes.

Men and women

Till Tulsi happened, Smriti wanted to do “what NDTV’s Prannay Roy did”. One day she landed at his office and demanded a job.

Had the news channel hired her, TV would be bereft of Tulsi.

Off screen, Smriti’s baiters have been women rather than men. The top rung of Balaji Telefilms hated her guts; women’s organisations decried her and her forays into politics generated enough criticism from women co-stars.

Men are a different ball game. “They are controlled by women. It could be his wife, mother or daughter. Except they are smart enough not to make a noise about it. It being a man’s world is a fallacy,” Smriti told HT. She has enough evidence to back this up given that her husband waits on her and contrary to her role portrayal, he kisses the ground she treads.