Ammaji gets candid with Hindustan Times about her role in Na Aana Is Des Laddo
Do you think it was a wise decision to opt for Laado?
Absolutely! The show has completed a year and is running successfully. Everyone who is a part of it has been appreciated. Ammaji is an extremely strong and a larger-than-life character. She wields her power over the men of a whole village. It’s a challenging and exciting role.
You are known to be a social activist yet play an anti-social personality on the show. How do the two different parts gel?
I am not an activist. But, I am very liberal in my thinking. I have been well educated and I do not share Ammaji’s views. That’s what made the role more challenging.As an actor, I have to leave my personal views behind when I am in character. And vice versa.
But doesn’t it confuse being someone so diametrically different 20 hours a day, seven days a week? Don’t you lose your own identity?
A true actor knows how to switch on and off. You cannot allow yourself to lose your identity for a fictional role. If I get affected, I fail as an actor.
According to the current track, your character is encouraging sexual relations between a brother-in-law and his bhabhi (elder sister-in-law). Doesn’t that invite flak from the audience?
If you put it across as an act of incest, then yes, it would. But it is actually not so. This reflects what happens in society. It is not something that is unheard of, there have been instances when the older brother dies and the devar (brother-in-law) gets married to the bhabhi. Yes, as Meghna, I think such behaviour is morally wrong. But Ammaji is governed by social diktats that are pretty archaic. Hey, centuries ago, the five Pandavas were married to one woman, Draupadi, remember? And no one raised any eyebrows then. But in today’s day and age, it would be unthinkable. As far as the audience flak goes, yes, some people did find the track uncomfortable. But it’s only a story.
You’re so slim, how do appear heavy on screen?
(Laughs) It’s all about body language. An actor needs to work on her gait and stance to make the character seem all powerful. Costume and make-up plays its part too, to make me look older and a lot more imposing on screen. I admit we’ve had to work every hard to make Ammaji convincing. But given the reactions I have been getting since the show flagged off, I think I have been successful to an extent.
But aren’t you now getting stereotyped as Ammaji?
Ammaji is someone who is seen on TV daily. May be that’s why you feel this way. On my part, I don’t feel stuck to an image or restrained in any way. I keep pushing myself to try new things all the time. Ammaji is one of the most magnificent characters that have been created on television, especially for a woman. It is fun to take up a challenge like her every day. Where else would one get to ride horses, fire guns and rule over men like I do? I have the same passion for the character today that I did on my first day as Ammaji.
As an actor, does it upset you when the ratings of the show plummet?
Not really. I am more interested in knowing whether the audience is applauding my performance and appreciating the show. Ratings are just numbers.
When you faked death on the show, some joggers at a park at your place actually were surprised to see you alive. Could you tell us what happened there?
When Ammaji was declared dead on the show, they had a shok sabha, (condolence meeting). But after the five-minute silence, as soon as it got revealed that she was back, they disturbed sweets in the park. I am humbled by such gestures. They are a source of inspiration.
‘Kids imitate me, walk like me and copy my actions’
Doesn’t it upset you that a lot of women hate Ammaji?
The truth is that they love me. And not just the women but also the men as well.
What kind of fan mails do you get?
No crazy stuff as such. But whenever I meet my fans they want me to render my lines live. Kids imitate me, walk like me and copy my actions. They want to invite me home for a meal. Some men come and touch my feet. Once this elderly Sikh gentleman came up to me and said, Mainu twade wich Guru Govind Singhji dikda hai.(I see the reflection of Guru Govind Singh in you’). It was so moving!
‘I did all this when I was in school’
You are seen riding a horse and apparently didn’t use a body double. True?
It’s a scene where Ammaji decides to show everyone in the village that she is the best and calls for a horse race with the men to prove her point. Naturally, she leaves the men behind.It is yet another egotistical scheme but there was a lot of action this time around that gave the shoot an interesting twist. I’ve studied in a boarding school where horse riding was part of the curriculum. So I just had to take some mandatory safety riding lessons on the sets before mounting the horse. It was great fun, especially since you don’t get to do this in the city. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. The track gave me an opportunity to do something I had last done when in school. My body double, Meghna Mallik, was so weak she will not be able to play Ammaji.
Veerpur and Ammaji are in for a rude shock in Na Aana Is Des Laado. Just when she was getting ready for a show of her superiority in Veerpur, a masked dacoit attempts to kidnap her. The face behind the veil is that of a woman dacoit, Amba played by Shikha Singh. Shikha, a relatively fresh-faced debutant. Rupa Ganguly, Kamya Punjabi and Kavita Kaushik were considered for the role but it finally went to this novice.