Joined: 06 August 2008
It's more than 100 episodes old now. But within a few days of being launched, Balika Vadhu, a daily serial on Colors channel, zoomed to the top of the TRP charts. That was a bit surprising, since Balika Vadhu comes loaded — not with sensational kitchen intrigues — but with an edifying social message on the evils of child marriage.
The serial is about a little girl, Anandi, who gets married into a house ruled by the orthodox iron-fisted matriarch Dadisa (brilliantly played by veteran Surekha Sikri), who allows no rebellion. So in a sense it is a saas bahu tale with a twist — Dadisa is a mother-in -law from hell — and it's what audiences are lapping up.
Balika Vadhu's launch was low key but it took third spot in the serial stakes from day one and then quickly ascended to the top spot, with regular television ratings points of 7.8. The longest running soap on Indian TV, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, which had double-digit TRPs at its zenith, had sunk to a rating of 3.6 recently. Which is why STAR TV axed the soap before the end of its contractual period.
Colors' commissioning head Ashwini Yardi was convinced that a social awareness programme with a rural setting would knock the socks off the viewer. Her hunch paid off. It was Yardi too who suggested the introduction of Gehna, a young girl married to a man old enough to be her father after his first wife, a child bride, dies at child birth. Gehna questions Dadisa's authority with unflinching resolve, which Anandi is too small to do.
Yardi says the intention was to convey a message without being 'preachy' and while being entertaining. The story had to evolve in a manner that reeled in viewers. "It is easy to be different but the audiences have to accept the difference," says Yardi.
But good intentions can also be dangerous. Some feel that a good start is being squandered in a softening stance against child marriage, sending out mixed messages to the audience. In fact, gushing posts on the Internet seem to talk more about the cuteness of young Avika Gor, who plays Anandi, than about the horror of child marriage.
Shakun of Vimochana, a Bangalore-based non governmental organisation that works in the field of women's rights, feels that the serial is definitely better than other saas-bahu sagas, but the makers seem to be sugar coating the message. "It's not very clear if they want to give a message or just say the practice is bad. It started strongly but now the intentions are very fuzzy. Maybe they are scared of the backlash. We all know what happened to Bhanwari Devi," she says, referring to the community worker who was gang raped in Rajasthan for fighting child marriage.
A harsher critic is Subhash Mohapatra of the Forum for Fact-Finding Documentation and Advocacy (FFDA), a body that works against illiteracy and child marriage. It was partly due to Mohapatra's nationwide campaign that the centre enacted the Prevention of Child Marriage Act in 2006. "They are glorifying child marriage," he fumes. "I feel very frustrated. The electronic media have no ethics. Do you know that in Kawardha village in Chattishgarh there are no women over 30 because they all die owing to early child bearing. Serials like Balika Vadhu commercialise the practice so much that the message has been lost."
Komal Srivastava is more forgiving. Founder of the Jaipur chapter of the Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti, which takes up literacy and women's issues, Srivastava has tuned in to the serial a few times. "At least they are talking about child marriage. But it is not very realistic — child marriages usually happen in poor families. Even gauna (the married girl finally going to the husband's home after a period of staying in her father's house) usually happens after puberty. But in the serial it happens much earlier. So there are these contradictions, but at least the serial is creating an awareness," says Srivastava.
Of course, Balika Vadhu's success is also rooted in happy timing. With its clear social message, Balika Vadhu arrived at a time when viewers were weary of soaps populated by characters that snarled and blinked their way through improbable storylines.Yet it is not as if serials with social messages are new to Indian television. Doordarshan has had a long innings in it, and in the 1980s serials such as Humlog had venerable actor Ashok Kumar deliver a homily at the end of each episode.
Evidently, like Hum Log, Balika Vadhu too has touched a chord somewhere. Yardi points to TRPs zooming "every time Gehna questions Dadisa on tradition."
"I know it is being said that we are being soft but that isn't so," says Balika Vadhu writer Purnendu Shekhar, who wrote the story for a film 12 years ago but found no takers on the big or the small screen. But in Balika Vadhu, the conflict is ideological and conveyed through emotions and characters rather than incidents, he says. "At some point we will also show the prevention of a child marriage," he adds.
The lasting ill effects of early marriage such as loss of childhood, sexual mismatch, early motherhood and lack of education will be shown, says Shekhar. "Something bad will happen to Anandi when she grows up. Viewers will feel, 'oh s***. We did not realise this is the fallout.' I am now writing the episodes related to Anandi's puberty that will air in February," he says.
Shekhar, who hails from Jaipur, has seen the terrible consequences of young girls being forced to bear children. He acknowledges that there were some angry reactions to the serial in Rajasthan, a state that tops child marriage figures in the country. "But not to point out the shortcomings of a friend is a betrayal of friendship," Shekhar shrugs.
What if the channel interferes or there is a backlash and one has to tone the content down? The writer says, "I wrote on the condition that I would have a free hand. If ever there is a situation where I feel I would have to make a compromise, I will walk away from the serial."
But Balika Vadhu's audiences are certainly not walking away. Right now, all they are doing is tuning in to watch the serial in ever greater numbers.
Joined: 06 August 2008
Joined: 06 August 2008
How old are you?
I'm 20 years 4 months old (laughs).
At this age, how do you manage to play Gehna, who may be just 15 but is emotionally very mature?
Yes, it is tough for me. I'm the only daughter in my family after 72 years and I am also the youngest. So it was difficult for me to relate to a girl who is the eldest and takes the responsibility for her family. Also, my character is married off to a man three times her age who forces a sexual relationship on her. It was difficult to get into her shoes. I'm a girl who can rarely stay quiet while Gehna steals the whole episode away with a single line.
What did you do to familiarise yourself with the character?
I owe it to the workshops, the script and the environment on the set. I was kept confined in a room and made to see films like Bandit Queen. My director, Purnenduji, who conceptualised my character, along with the dialogue writer, gives me instructions. I do not ask questions like most other actors. I pose a question only when I cannot relate to something. I feel people write the show with conviction. By now, I know how Gehna will react to situations and there is no need to instruct me all the time.
The first nights after Gehna's marriage were torture for her. How did you pull off showing her pain?
The beauty of Balika Vadhu is that it plays with expressions and gestures. We have shown 7-8 nights where I was sexually molested but it was done so beautifully, so much was conveyed by subtle suggestions. For instance, the after-effect of the first night scenes was captured beautifully. The pain of what she went through in the night was shown with her gestures and expressions. I was convinced and so was the audience, hence it worked.
Shooting this sequence was difficult for me. When I read the script, I could not visualise what I had to do. So I let the director take me through it and not think about it myself though I was very uncomfortable.
Some people feel that the show does not protest against child-marriage strongly enough. What is your view?
When you distribute pamphlets, people immediately throw them away. If you give the same pamphlet folded or crumpled, people will open it to see what it contains. It is our nature to notice negative aspects far more easily than the positives; and that is what we bank upon. In the show, we showcase the wrong and insert a message in the end that it should not be done.
There are no negative characters in Balika Vadhu though a lot of people think Gehna's character is negative and others believe Maasaa is negative while some find Anandi irritating.
Do the men in your family you receive preferential treatment?
I have nine brothers in my house because we are from a joint family. My dad is the youngest amongst three brothers and I'm the youngest child of my dad so I'm pampered. In the metros, girls are not ignored completely but in remote places, as the popular saying goes, "Neeyat badal jaati hai par fitrat nahi badalti". However, even today, I have overheard my friends telling their girlfriends that they can give up studies if they don't have an inclination for it. Why can't the girl study and why does the man think he needs to study and do something in life? We claim that men and women are working shoulder-to-shoulder but the girl's shoulder is always an inch less.
Do you speak your mind in real life too?
As a person I'm very vocal. Before I played Gehna it was all about I, me and myself. I was self-obsessed (laughs). I would stand up for all "my" demands. But now I have started speaking for people around me. Not in public places but if I feel that my mother is in the wrong I tell her so; I even tell her the other person was right, which I could not have dared to do before.
Your co-actor Smita Bansal says that she gets goose bumps when enacting scenes with Surekha Sikri. What about you?
She gets goose-bumps and I get tears. The best thing about Surekhaji is that if you need her over-the-shoulder shot, she not only gives you cues but does them with the same intensity she gives to her own shots. From Anandi to Jagiya to me to Basant, we have never required glycerine because the way we react to each other is so natural that it just happens.
What is happening to your other fiction show Jo Ishq Ki Marzi Hai?
It is finally going on air from March 10. We have started shooting for it already.
You are a young girl. Are you dating anybody?
No. Actually I'm thinking of somebody but the results are not out yet. So I cannot say anything now (laughs).Source : The Calcutta Telegraph
Joined: 06 August 2008
Balika Vadhu started out as an experiment but has now become the most strikingly successful show on television. Love it or hate it, you certainly cannot miss it. It's a phenomenon just like Kyunki... Such a success streak is no doubt a noteworthy achievement. Add to that Balika Vadhu deals with a sensitive issue like child-marriage on national television. So the question arises — is it able to carry off its social responsibility to educate and not just entertain?
"Frankly, we in the team believe that it is not possible to educate people until you catch their fancy," says well-known writer Gajra Kottary who co-writes Balika Vadhu and pens the story of every episode. "Unless the audience wants to listen, you cannot tell them because the remote is in their hand. So the point is to be able to drive your message across in a very entertaining manner. As far as our stand is concerned, we make it very clear right in the beginning of the serial and at its end (there is a written disclaimer condemning child marriages) — we are not trying to hype up or use the regressive theme, as some people have called it, to entertain people."
But is it easy to strike the balance between watchability and a social message? The serial constantly focuses on the sufferings of an 11-year-old girl-bride, Anandi (played by Avika Gor) at the hands of her dadisa, her grandmother-in-law (Surekha Sikri).
The current track deals with yet another child-marriage in the family — a 15 year-old girl is married to a man twice her age. And he is even shown to abuse her physically. Does a one-line disclaimer at the beginning and end of the show take care of all the sufferings shown? Gajra says: "We are not promoting child-marriage at all. The theme of Balika Vadhu is the story of a robbed childhood. A girl who was very bright was not allowed to continue her studies and has to come to terms with growing up when there is so much for her to explore and discover."
Gajra points out that the serial's anti-child-marriage stance is clear enough and it has had a positive influence. She says, "I know of many cases, especially in Rajasthan and UP, where parents among the poorer classes were on the verge of marrying off their 15-16 year old daughters but after watching the serial have said 'Let's wait a bit'. That is what an achievement is all about."
That's definitely commendable. But wouldn't the serial's message have been even more impactful if there were stronger voices raised against the wrong-doing? Or if there was a strong adult voice of reason which is not easily squashed? Gajra argues: "It is not a documentary and neither is it a film where you have to prove certain points within three hours. It is about portraying reality, which in this case is extremely morbid, unfair and unjust. The reality is that people like Anandi's parents are not able to put their foot down in the face of the social order. It takes a long time."
Taking a breath, Gajra adds: "We have a lot of story to go. We are certainly not going to have our protagonist just go on (being victimised) like this. She is going to be a real fighter because she has been the victim," concludes Gajra.
Source : The Calcutta Telegraph
Joined: 06 August 2008
Congratulations on winning the 'Best actress in a negative role' at Indian Television Academy awards.
I do not play my character negatively. But there is a shortage of categories — they have one negative, one positive. The industry's perception of categories is strange.
Balika Vadhu has given you more popularity than ever before.
That's true. I have done a lot of good roles in my life but this has hit the bull's eye. Everybody likes it. It is a well-written story and character and I have the pleasure of playing it.
You seem to be living the character.
I try to empathise with the character and try and look at her viewpoint. The identification process ensues. Unless I'm convinced, I cannot convince somebody else. So I have to get under the skin of the character.
In these times, how do you justify your tyrannical character? Do you think mothers-in-law like dadi-saa exist today?
I think women like dadi-saa exist in little towns and villages and, to some extent, even in cities. They might not be wearing dehati clothes but their attitude is the same towards their daughters-in-law. You read about people living in highrises beating up their daughters-in-law for dowry.
What if some mothers-in-law make you their role model — that would be dangerous?
A ma-in-law should not make me her role model; she should have her own convictions. Why would anyone want to be like my character? I'm sure a lot of them want to bash me up (laughs).
Has anyone come up and expressed his anger at you?
Once somebody came up to me and said: "Please don't torture the little kid (laughs)."
Why is there a dearth of roles for the contemporary ma-in-law on TV today?
Lack of imagination, I think. On television, people follow whatever is working, instead of thinking of something original. I would love to play a mother-in-law in jeans — it would be a fantastic character. You have to think out of the box. I'm sure such characters will go down well. Aisa nahin hai ki audience ko chahiye isliye hum de rahein hai. It is an absolute myth.
Can you elaborate?
Balika Vadhu has proved that the moment you give the audience something better, they switch loyalties to that show.
Your co-star Smita Bhansal says she gets goosebumps doing scenes with you.
I'm very fond of Smita. She is a fine actress. I enjoy working with all my co-stars on the sets.
Who is your favourite child?
Oh! I will not divulge that (laughs). All of them are my favourites. I like Anandi and Avinash. The girl who plays Suguna is also a fine actress.
From your earlier roles, which would be your pick?
I enjoyed playing Radha, the mother of three daughters in Banegi Apni Baat. It was another well-written role.
You come from the NSD. Do you believe that training/theatre makes better actors?
Yes, it gives a certain amount of discipline and empowers you with various techniques on how to approach your role.
What kind of a person are you in real life?
Oh, I'm just a little old woman with a normal lifestyle. I work from morning to evening; and when I'm not shooting I stay at home. Because of these shooting schedules, I am left with no time. I mostly like spending time at home. Nowadays, because of the traffic, one does not feel like going anywhere. I enjoy my work a lot, it energises me a great deal. I love music, reading, cooking.
One knows very little of your personal life.
I'm married to Hemant Rege and I have a son who lives in Delhi. He is in his late twenties. He is an artiste, a self-taught painter. My husband is involved in production work.
Source : The Calcutta Telegraph
Joined: 06 August 2008
Joined: 26 August 2006
Joined: 26 August 2006
Death has made me famous: Jehangir
22 Apr 2009, 0000 hrs IST, ZEENIA F BARIA
His death was mourned by a phenomenal number of people.
When Jehangir Vakil died (on screen, of course!), it catapulted the young actor to fame and the serial, Balika Vadhu, to the number one slot. And although the show has now slipped from its numero uno position, Jehangir is still basking in the recognition it has fetched him. "I can't believe death made me so famous!" he says with a laugh.
"The adulation feels great. Working on the show was a fantastic experience. Sugna is a lovely co-star, I miss working with her the most. I knew that my character had to eventually die so I was prepared for my exit. What I wasn't expecting was the response from viewers," he grins.
Unknown to many, the young actor signed on his first film role before Balika Vadhu. "I'm currently working on three films — Kaccha Nimbu, Paathshala and Mera Bachpan, where I play different roles. I landed the role of Pratap quite by chance. They called me for an audition, shortlisted me and I was in," says Jehangir who describes himself as a shy, down-to-earth guy who loves to act.
"I didn't always want to act. I wanted to become an IPS officer but I hated studying!" says the actor who doesn't come from a filmi background. "I entered the industry quite by chance. None of my friends belong to the acting arena."
Jehangir now is waiting to do a negative role. "I think I have that bad boy look to carry off a baddie's role. It would be a great learning experience. Right now my priority are films but I'm open to more interesting television roles, too," he signs off.
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