'SRK taught me how to face the camera'
She has been a fighter, both on and off the television screen. The Tulsi of Kyunkii Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi has been a constant in the nation’s drawing rooms for over a decade and is unanimously considered the small screen’s superstar.
From a Delhi family, married to a business- man and mum to three, besides acting she is now producing stage dramas and TV serials. Smriti Z Iraani in a tea-time chat with Usha Thomas.
Has this year been a turning point for you?
Yes, I’ve been accepted as a creative person which is my biggest achievement. I’ve grown as an actor and producer.
Working with a writer of Kamlesh Pandey's calibre, especially after he received huge success with Rang De Basanti, has been a learning experience. Ektaa (Kapoor) has seen me extend my work profile, the fact that I still work with Balaji Telefilms speaks for itself.
What prompted to set up Ugraya Entertainment?
I was contributing my inputs to the script of Kyunkii Saas Bhi and realised I could do that for my own company I started off . with the play Kuchh Tum Kaho Kuchh Hum Kahen followed by the Gujarati play maniben.com which received critical acclaim from Indian and foreign audiences.
It has completed 200 shows. Thodi Si Zameen Thoda Sa Aasman was the first serial I produced for TV and now Viruddh for Sony .
Why a play in Gujarati?
One, I didn't know the language. So it was to break the myth that I’m just a popular actress and limited by reasons of language. These plays revived my love for acting..otherwise I would have been caught in the rut.
Balaji Telefilms is no longer associated with Thodi Si Zameen..?
Business decisions are best kept in the boardroom (laughs). Ugraya was handling all the aspects of the show anyway except for certain production matters.
It had been mutually decided that at the end of 52 episodes, I would handle it alone. Ektaa had no issues with this.Contrary to popular belief, there were no fireworks.
Why are you so guarded about your business ventures?
I’m growing professionally I don't . see the need to explain my career choices to the world. I’m answerable to my company team and when , everything is in place, then I prefer the channel to do the talking.
Tell me about the NGO- Smriti Iraani foundation?
I set it up two years ago soon after the Bombay floods. Project Nirmal, which is named after my grandfather, aims to provide drinking water to 100 villages in five years. I fund it from my own earnings. So far, we’ve reached 21 villages have benefited.
My children have seen pictures and write-ups on me in the newspapers and magazines as an actress..I wanted to introduce them to other facets of my personality...someone who’s concerned about the conditions around us.
BJP has recently appointed you the secretary of Maharashtra; what does your role entail?
It just means added responsibilities but it doesn’t differentiate me from other party workers. I’ve just campaigned for the elections. All I’ve been told is to keep the interest alive in social issues, which I have..and believed that it’s a must to bring about a change.
Who are your support systems?
There have been too many people who have taken credit for my success. But apart from my husband (Zubin), there’s only one man who has never been publicly acknowledged, for whatever I’ve achieved. That’s Shah Rukh Khan and I’ve never spoken about this..
Yes Boss was being shot when I first came to Mumbai. I was asked to do a small role in it. Shah Rukh taught me how to face the camera and told me what acting is all about.
It was a crowd scene. I went up to him and said I’ve never faced so many people in my life. He said look them in the eye. From that day, I’ve looked people in the eye and I’ve kept walking.
Shah Rukh is Zubin’s friend. When I became Tulsi, the only two people who actually helped Smriti gain a footing are Shah Rukh Khan and Zubin.
I think if I ever sit opposite him on the Kaun Banega Crorepati hot seat, I would break down in tears.That’s because he signifies my beginning for me. If I’m allowed by Sony, I’d love to dedicate Viruddh to Shah Rukh Khan and Zubin.
Okay, now describe yourself.
My real test is being judged by the way my children turn out. A traditionalist at heart, I’m a firm believer that if you do good to others, then good happens to you.I’m impulsive but I’m also a fast thinker. I admit my mistakes.. (laughs) though I still have to make one..
I don’t take popularity for granted..it has to be nurtured and sustained. And when I travel for my political work, I realise how women today do have equal opportunities to evolve their own identities.
How do you see the TV industry evolving today?
It has become a humongous industry Besides the economic growth, . it has also grown in product value, content and presentation. Take our sets for Viruddh made by Omung Kumar, they’re a step ahead of what’s seen on TV today .
Television is in its period of transition, it could take the next leap any moment. As an industry, we’ve created an exclusive dedicated entertainment segment, be it in the newspapers or magazines. All I know is that I’m going to survive the transition.
What appeals most of all to me is the excellent quality in technique and post-production. I’m hoping more writers will come in. I hope to see men and women in their 20s aspiring to be creative heads.
Did you know Zubin long before you married him?
After knowing him for 20 years and being married to him for six, I’ve just recently found time to romance with Zubin at the editing table and on my Viruddh sets. I’ve become calm and matured emotionally .
I was like a volcano earlier. I’m married to an understanding person. He’s looking better with age and I tease him about that. We’ve never taken time off for ourselves. Now Zubin and I have decided to go away for two days and just spend time together..just chat and gossip like old times.
How do you make time for your family?
My children know what I do. I’m with them for all their special occasions. My parents are still in a state of shock, they haven’t really reacted to what I’ve done with my life.
Maybe it's because I have not made a big deal about the fact that I’m an actress. They lead far more interesting lives than I do. I want to know more about what they did with their day ..mine they already know.
So what next?
I’m an aazad panchhi. I look at the sky and please don’t laugh..I want to fly.
E-mail author: email@example.com