She is temperamental, inconsiderate and in her own words, “a complete misfit” in the family she married into.
But Suhana, the youngest bahu in the serial Sasural Genda Phool on Star Plus, couldn’t care less. Her in-laws also seem to accept her the way she is. Suhana’s bhabhis aren’t scheming. Her mother-in-law is not a shrew. There are no kitchen politics at play in the household. And the men of the family are more than props.
Who’s that girl?
It’s a welcome change. Because for once, there’s a bahu who is a real person. Inconsiderate but not insensitive. Self-centered but not selfish.
Surprisingly, this ‘different’ bahu has become quite a favourite with the audience. “I have never got negative feedback about Suhana,” says Ragini. “Even older people who you think will not appreciate Suhana’s attitude have stopped me and said, ‘Tu smile bahut achcha karti hai’. They pat me on my head and leave. It’s really funny.”
It’s funny not because it’s a joke, but because conventional wisdom has it that a TV bahu must be a sort of weeping machine. But, as Ragini says, “I don’t think audiences have a problem with bindaas bahus. It’s the serial makers who have a problem. Most people just want good stories and entertainment. And they’re tired of all the rona-dhona you see in conventional soaps.”
But the actress and the character she plays are not alike at all. Though both have a sense of fun, Ragini believes that Suhana is far more immature than she is. “Even I get irritated by her attitude at times,” she laughs.
Plus, it hasn’t been easy for the actress to get into Suhana mode. Ragini’s last role on TV was in the serial Bhaskar Bharti, where she played Bhaskar, a man who turns into a woman, Bharti.
Having played a man for ages, shifting character to an immature young woman was not easy for Ragini to pull off.
“For nearly 10 months, I was walking, talking and behaving like a man,” she says. “I almost forgot myself; forgot how to be a girl. So it was tough. Besides, the sudden closure of Bhaskar Bharti left me devastated.”
So she refused nearly 30 serial offers till she met Ravi Ojha, director of Sasural…, and heard the script. “When I heard the story, it just clicked,” she smiles.
Is there any chance that Sasural Genda Phool will take a more melodramatic turn, reducing the now happy family into a bunch of TV cut-outs?
“If such a thing happens, I think the serial will flop,” says Ragini. “I’ve experienced that with Bhaskar Bharti. The minute we changed it to the typical soap, the TRPs dropped. I think the audience hates unnatural changes.”
Ragini is actor Govinda’s niece, but though she was always interested in the performing arts and trained in classical singing and dance, acting wasn’t what she wanted to do.
“All my cousins would go to Chi Chi mama (Govinda) for advice, but I never did,” she says. “I was never interested in acting. Bollywood dancing is the maximum I would agree to learn.”
But the offer for her first serial, Radha Ki Betiyaan, where she played the second daughter, just fell into her lap. Then there was Bhaskar Bharti and now there’s Sasural. Life, she says, has been completely unplanned but it’s been great.
Ragini has also just finished shooting for a Rakeysh Mehra film called Mad Madder Maddest, and says as long as the going’s good, she’ll have fun. “The day I stop getting work, I’ll happily get married,” she laughs.
Unlike Suhana of Sasural Genda Phool, who is a frivolous young woman, Pratigya of Mann Ki Awaaz Pratigya (Star Plus) is the exact opposite. She’s the sober, serious type, from a traditional family in Allahabad. But she’s married into a rustic, almost ruffian-like family that sees women as nonentities.
Her husband is the local thug, who was only able to marry Pratigya by threatening to abduct her and ruin her family’s reputation.
But though she gave in to these threats, Pratigya is no doormat. She has to make compromises, but she ensures that people know they are compromises. Always calm and composed, she knows exactly how to get her husband to listen to her. And she takes no nonsense from her in-laws.Different strokes
So is Pratigya a kind of new-age Tulsi? Pooja Gaur, who plays Pratigya, cringes at the very thought. "I cannot imagine playing Tulsi – new-age, old-age, whatever age," she shudders. "She was too melodramatic and very much the sacrificial lamb. That’s not me, either on screen or off it."
You would imagine that a woman who marries the local thug to protect her family’s honour would be a bit of a martyr, but that’s not how Pooja sees Pratigya’s character. “In fact, she marries him for revenge,” Pooja says. “She is sure she’ll be able to teach him a lesson after marriage. Besides, to keep her safe, Pratigya’s brother marries the goon’s sister. So it’s a give and take.”
Pooja thought hard before she accepted the role of Pratigya. “I was always sure of what I wanted to do, the kind of roles I wanted to play,” she says. “I was tired of the Tulsis and Parvatis on TV. So when I heard the story of Pratigya, I leapt at it. Here is this woman in a conventional set-up in a semi-urban place, and yet she is strong enough to hold her own. She has guts and that is what made me do the serial.”
It was a risk, given that TV audiences want to watch characters like Tulsi, Parvati and their clones. But Pooja believes that audiences are just as tired of these “silly” bahus as she is. “People would watch these serials religiously. But every time I spoke to any of my aunts about them, they would criticise the bahus for being silly or doormat-ish, forever sobbing and never standing up for themselves.”
Pratigya has become quite the role model for women in smaller cities. “It’s a nice feeling when women and little girls come up and tell me how their lives have changed after watching the serial,” says Pooja. “Once, when I was in Kanpur, a 14-year-old girl told me how she had hit back at a boy in her school who had been troubling her for a while. In Lucknow, a married woman told me she was proud to see someone like Pratigya who stood up against injustice.”
An Ahmedabad girl, Pooja herself is as strong as Pratigya, though she says she has never been that sombre. “I am just 19!” she says. “I’m much more of a child, hyperactive and vivacious. I am also a tomboy. I grew up with 14 cousin brothers. Obviously, these girly tantrums don’t come naturally to me.”
She’d never considered acting as a career and was in college when TV producer Ektaa Kapoor saw her pictures on Facebook and approached her to do a serial, Kitni Mohabbat Hai. “Till then I was happy studying. But this wasn’t just any role,” says Pooja. “It was the role of a widow who falls in love and decides to marry. For TV, that was different. So I jumped at it.”
Her parents weren’t upset by Pooja’s decision to enter the world of glamour – “they’re sure of me,” she says – so her transition was smooth. But is there a chance that Pratigya might change to the more conventional soap queen? “I will quit before I become a Tulsi or Parvati!” laughs Pooja.