Sonal Jha felt powerless working in Balika Vadhu: 'My character conveniently switched from progressive to orthodox'

Feb 16, 2023 09:19 AM IST

Actor Sonal Jha, currently seen in Jehanabad Of Love and War, talks about the new show, her role and recalls her Balika Vadhu days in this exclusive interview with Hindustan Times.

Sonal Jha, best known for her work in Balika Vadhu and Na Aana Is Des Laado, has said that TV shows that appear progressive are not always that. She recently featured in Sudhir Mishra's Jehanabad Of Love and War. In an exclusive chat with Hindustan Times, Sonal recalls her college days, her politicial views and reveals why she distanced herself from TV shows. (Also read: Rajesh Jais on why he's against nudity, abusive language in shows)

Sonal Jha in a still from Balika Vadhu.
Sonal Jha in a still from Balika Vadhu.

How has TV content changed since Balika Vadhu days?
To be honest, I stopped watching TV. After 2016, I have not switched my TV on so I may not be able to talk in detail about this. TV is a wide medium and a lot of content is being made simultaneously. When Balika Vadhu was being made, Ekta Kapoor was also making her serials on kitchen politics and (that kind of) regresive content. So, I am sure good stories are still there but maximum stuff just the same as what has been going on (all these years).
If there is any change visible, it is too frivolous. There are times when I get calls offering me ‘a strong and progressive character’.
I feel that their agenda is not showing progressive content. (They tell me) 'this is the story, this is a progressive role. That is why I distanced my self from TV work, their agenda is different. They do not have a stand. Like the market does not have any stand, it will turn towards profit. All these companies are now talking about positive discussions around skin colour and body images but how much has actually changed? TV is a dificult medium to work with, if you want to work with a particular ideology or something.

Jab chahte the orthodox bana dete the, jab chahe progressive bana dete the mera Balika Vadhu character (They could easily switch my Balika Vadhu character from progressive to orthodox according to their will). Meri creative se ladai bhi ho jaati thi ki do episode pehle to maine ye kaha aaj uska opposite kaise keh rahi hun (I would often fight with the creative team asking why would my character say something completely opposite of what it said two episodes ago)? But, you cannot say much in TV. The channel can do it, but we felt powerless.

Did you face difficulties during your college days in Delhi, in the early 90s?

My weakness was that I studied in Hindi-medium till graduation and here (in Delhi), I was studying in English. The cultural shock was also there. I had a dififcult time dealing with the language problem. I remember I used to call up my father and cry saying 'I won't be able to do it' but my he just asked me to give it a try adding that failing was the worst that could happen. The contradiction was that I wrote the entrance exam in Hindi, we could also write our MA exams in Hindi but the mode of instruction was English. Even the books were in English. I used to urge professors for extra classes, and managed to score second division. But I also struggled with inferiority complex a lot. That was the bigest struggle, I know I am good but just because of the language, I went through that complex, you know just the way teachers and other students treated us. But I am happy I stayed there and learnt a lot.

Have you experienced caste-based discrimination during the time you lived in Bihar?

Not with me, I am a privilaged person that way, but around me? Yes, you cannot escape that when you grew up in Bihar. No matter how educated and sophisticated we were. I remember how we saw a different treatment for people who worked in the field, in my maternal grandmother's house. They could not step inside the house, they lived outside the village. None of that was there in my house, because, as I told you, my family was a very leftist one. I had friends -Rajput and from the Dalit section - and the way others behaved with them made us realise that something is off, something is different.

Tell us about your character in Jehanabad and the challenges you faced portraying it.
(Director) Rajeev Barnwal told me that this is a typical mom but she is also the decision-maker - he told me that the character was based on his mom. I liked that, because most of my characters have been subdued. To be honest, I did not have many offers that I had to choose from. This was only my second project on OTT so I agreed for it.

The challenge was how to make it interesting. Moms' characters are mostly streotyped. It is portrayed like it is a relation, not a personality. I have a 22-year-old son and I worry about him and his well-being but there is so much more to my personality as a human being. I am fed up because I get similar characters like that, the challenge (for Jehanabad) was this was the same, and I had to somehow make the woman realistic.

In fact, some good scenes were eventually chopped (from the final cut). Kumud Mishra (Sonal's character) went to Abhimanyu Singh (lead Ritwik Bhowmik's character) to say that she does not have a problem with him, and she'd not have objected to the love mariage had she not been in Jehanabad. She also apolgises.

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    Sweta Kaushal has 13 years of experience covering Bollywood and regional movies, TV shows, national current affairs and social issues.

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