“Shanti was a very gutsy, strong character to play as my first role,” says Mandira Bedi
Shanti was your debut, and it made you a celebrity. But the character itself was audacious for its time. Were you apprehensive?
I was doing my post graduation and training under Prahlad Kakkar to enter advertising when Adi Pocha, the director of Shanti, saw me and asked me to audition for the role. I didn’t have any formal training in acting and no intention to act, but before I knew it, I was on television. For me, Shanti was a very gutsy, strong character to play as my first role, but I enjoyed playing her. I loved the character, the boldness, the subject. I think a lot of that character rubbed off on to me and stayed with me later in life.
Why didn’t we see you doing similar strong, women-centric roles again?
Shanti was a character ahead of its time – progressive, inspirational, widely loved. Truth be told, there were very few roles that interested me after that. I did play this negative character in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi – it was something that I ticked off my bucket list. But yes, I have to say that not too many interesting roles came after Shanti. And it was very difficult to shake off the Shanti tag.
If you had to do one serial or role of the big hits today, which would you choose?
There’s nothing at the moment that I’d say I would want to be a part of. I’d love to be a part of some of the international shows, like Homeland or House of Cards. I did play a dream character recently, that of Nikita Rai in 24.
Why do you think the quality of TV declined after the 1990s?
I think the whole ratings game did it in. Things are different now; the industry is so fragmented with so many channels vying for the same eyeballs. Back then, when a show was commissioned, it was made and given time to pick up and for people to like it. Now what happens is if a show doesn’t bring in good ratings, they go back to replicating what works – domestic dramas with a saas and bahu. The formula may have worked in the past but it’s not going to work every time.
Also – and I do believe that Shanti is also guilty of this a bit – we don’t know when to shut a show down. If a show does well here, they just pull it and pull it to the point when people start saying that take the damn thing off air now! It’s like flogging a dead horse.
People ask me that if I started my career acting in television, why am I not seen playing characters on television like before? It’s not like I look down on television at all; I mean I’m so grateful to it… television changed my life. But it has become a factory now. Actors end up doing two-three shifts at a go; we used to do just one shift from 9am-6pm every day and wrap up nine scenes. We’d work 15-20 days a month, have a life and still manage to have a bank of three months’ episodes! That doesn’t happen anymore.
From HT Brunch, January 10, 2016
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