Indian television's most popular child artiste caught in conversation with the 19 year-old who has just replaced her, and a 23 year-old young man who plays her husband. Avika Gor, Pratyusha Banerjee and Shashank Vyas in an exclusive chat with Sunday Mid Day
One has been there, done that; the other is still finding her feet. The first is a pro at handling the press,
the other fumbles while talking about her big break. The first has been around for 500 episodes, the other is just two weeks old on television. Ironically, the first is 13, the other is 19.
Pratyusha Banerjee who plays debutant Shashank Vyas' wife Anandi
on daily soap Balika Vadhu, takes over from child artiste Avika Gor.
Television's favourite child star, Avika Gor is done playing Rajasthani child bride Anandi on Balika Vadhu. The character is grown up, and that means Avika had to make way for an adult artiste. After months of casting and primetime suspense, Jamshedpur girl Pratyusha Banerjee arrived on screen.
What the two have in common is an on-screen child groom Jagdish (lovingly called Jagya) played by Avinash Mukherjee, who made way for an older Shashank Vyas, 23, this week.
Quite the ladies' man, the debutant handled both ladies with ease, winking, "I don't want any problems."
There's a crackling chemistry between the two. "Shashank is a very dear friend. We did a scene together during the auditions not realising what we were getting into. I was told I was playing a character called Bijuriya," laughs Pratyusha.
"I has no clue about playing Jagya either," admits Shashank. The two apparently sailed through the audition, and later went mall-hopping. "We hit it off well. There were other guys too but Shashank and I gelled."
Later, when Pratyusha received a call about the 'new Anandi', Shashank was among the few she shared the news with. "And he turned around and said he was playing Jagya!" "Yes, that was quite something. Imagine, jiske saath mein mall mein ghoom raha tha, she was paired opposite me!"
Three actresses were shortlisted for Anandi's role, with the channel letting viewers decide who would get the part through a contest. "Pratyusha asked me to SMS for her, which I did," he says.
The chat shifts to parents, and that's a sore point for Shashank who has lost his mother. Pratyusha whispers to us that she is no more. "But she is watching him and must be very happy," she says, giving his hand a reassuring squeeze.
The two know there is a legacy to live up to thanks to the TRP hogger that the show has been since it was launched in 2008. They go into raptures discussing the "efficient and hard working crew and co-actors".
"When they are putting in so much of effort, we can't afford to be lazy, right?" says Shashank, who hails from Rajasthan "jo bahut saal pehle peechhe chhoot gaya, before I moved to Ujjain and Indore to study."
But what the two friends have decided is not to let pressure bog them down. "We are aware there's a lot to live up to. But we are not letting it bog us down. We are looking at it like it's a new show."
15 minutes with Avika Gor
When the whole world loves you
Arriving on set straight from school, Avika settles down quickly for a chat. Poised, and sometimes a tad too diplomatic, the class eight student of Ryan International says she has happily moved on from playing iconic child bride Anandi on the hit daily soap.
Were you disappointed when you heard about the leap in storyline?
No, why should I be? Avinash (plays her husband Jagya on the show) and I were meant to shoot for just 80 episodes anyway. The writer ended up giving us 500! The story has reached a point where the kids had to grow up. My dad explained to me why the leap was essential, and I was fine.
Of the three actresses picked to play the older Anandi, which would you choose?
Anyone is fine by me. While I thought 'A' had my eyes, 'B' had my smile. But 'C' had a chirpy personality like I do. I voted for all three. But let me tell you a secret. 'A' (the final choice, Pratyusha, who's on the show now) is shorter than I am. Anandi couldn't have grown shorter over the years! (During the photo shoot, she gleefully shows us Pratyusha's heels).
Do you like Shashank as the new Jagdish?
Shashank is handsome, he has a nice smile. He is very tall. Avinash too is 5 feet 7 inches. So yes, he is a good fit.
What do you miss most about the show?
Everything! When that happens, I just drop by on set. (The make-up guy touches up her face for our photographer, just like old times. She enquires, "Aaj AD kaun hai? (Who's the assistant director today?)" like any other actor who has been with the unit for long).
What do you remember of the last day of shooting?
Although one half of the unit was in Rajasthan, Siddharth Sengupta, who directed me on the first day, was there on the last day too.
Did you cry?
Has playing Anandi been purely advantageous, or is there a pitfall?
That more children want to be friends with me, that more children are willing to share their notes with me if I miss school, is a plus.
There are no disadvantages. The whole world loves you. I don't get tired of people wanting to meet me, shoot pictures or interview me. I enjoy it all.
What is that one tip you will give Pratyusha?
Do everything Dadisa (grandmother on the show played by veteran Surekha Sikri) tells you, even if you don't approve. Dare not make her angry.
So are you going to take up the Bigg Boss offer?
I don't know. I am still in the middle of finalising a few projects. I will let you know if something works out. As for Bigg Boss, I can't think of living without my parents even for an hour!