Kyunki's Original Saas
She is hell-bent on sending her daughter-in-law Tulsi to jail and is currently the most hated woman on television. Savita is the mean mother-in-law and Apara Mehta, who is playing the role, is happy that her work is being noticed. Her role has metamorphosised from a scheming saas to a loving ma ... now demanding justice. The actor, who shoots for the serial during the day, and jet sets to anywhere in India by evening for her Gujarati plays, replies to queries about her progress on TV...
Your character in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (KSBKBT) has taken a drastic change. From the loving mother-in-law of Tulsi, you have now turned against her. How do you justify this change?
To create drama in a long-running serial, conflict is brought in at various points. Many a times, outer forces or new faces are introduced to give a different dimension to the serial and after the matter is solved, they vanish from the scene. Even audience forgets them easily. We did not want that to happen with our serial.
Presently the track in KSBKBT is that of Tulsi, Ba and Savita, the characters played by Smriti Irani, Sudha Shivpuri and me respectively. And since the conflict is amongst family members which affects them greatly, we thought of portraying Savita in a slightly negative way. I reitarate that Savita is not black, she is not wrong in her stand either. She is a very strong woman and will stand by her words. All she wants is justice for her dead grandson who has been killed by his own mother. Savita states that no one can take law in their hands, not even her loving daughter-in-law. But she is not against Tulsi or her ideologies. In the court, when she tells the judge to sentence Tulsi with life imprisonment, she does so with a heavy heart yet she knows it is the right thing any human being would do.
People have been accepting this gradual change though some die-hard Tulsi fans think otherwise. But that is how it works.
As Mihir's mother, I became the mother of every man in this country
Does that mean you are happy with the way your character is being portrayed?
Yeah, it is good for the progress of the storyline. In the serial, Tulsi and Savita have been together for more than 25 years and their relationship has undergone several ups and downs in life. They understand each other very well. But today when Tulsi has committed a crime, she has to be punished. I think the Virani women are very strong in values and culture. I am getting a mixed response from the viewers. But an actor should always welcome criticism. It helps him grow as an artiste.
Who do you identify with: the Savita of today or the Savita who was the loving and considerate mother-in-law of Tulsi?
I would say both are right in their own way. You see, Savita is shown as a woman of 67/68 years. She is more than 20 years older than what I am in real life. When the makers, Ekta Kapoor and the writers, decided to take the 20-year old leap, I was very apprehensive but everyone stood by what was conceived and projected their part well. So I had to act and look like an older woman, behave like one and at that age one tends to be much wiser, which I think I have also become now, thanks to the serial. Basically I am a happy-go-lucky person who has had a beautiful relationship with my own mother-in-law. So that way I can relate to my role as Tulsi's saas. In India, the saas-bahu relationship has been termed as derogatory. I noticed this during my campaigning in rural areas. I would say just because a married woman flaunts her bindi, sindoor, sarees and mangalsutra, it does not make her any weaker to her sisters from the urban areas.
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This serial has been a milestone in my career. I have scaled the popularity charts for my portrayal of a mother-in-law who initially had negative shades till she starts liking her bahu. Again it is circumstances that make her stand against her.
Your character of the mother-in-law is very modern and up-to-date. Do you think the audience will accept such a gorgeous looking grandmom as well?
What is wrong with it? Look at Kokilaben Ambani today. She wears the best of chiffons with matching jewellery. And how elegant she looks? Isn't she a grandmother too? Take a look at the way Shobhaa De dresses. Savita too is a well-dressed English-speaking, youthful-looking daadi. She has always worn good sarees with lots of jewellery. So what can stop her from dressing well now? Looking good is the sign of progress, I say.
In Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka (EMHSK), one of my earlier serials, too I was Paro, the happy-go-lucky daughter-in-law who wore colourful sarees, big bindis and lots of jewellery as the bahu of an industrialist. And as the daughter-in-law of the Virani parivar too, I dressed up well. So far there have been no complains about it so I guess everyone is happy with my looks.
After Ba, you are the eldest in the family. Are you treated like a mother or daadi on the sets?
What do I tell you? Mentally I am the youngest in the team and am bullied and pampered a lot. But then each one is loved on our sets. It is sheer pleasure to be on the sets of KSBKBT. You see success makes things so much better and brighter.
The serial has been on air for almost five years now. What is the equation that you share with your co-stars today?
It has been a long time, time enough to become good friends with all. We are all extremely close to each other. The days when one of us is not on the sets, we begin to get withdrawal symptoms. It is the serial of a close-knit family and that is what we have become in the last five years. There is only love and affection amongst all of us. Each one is eagerly helping one another and there are no ego hassles in our team.
What is more special is that whenever someone new joins the serial, he is welcomed with open arms into our loving territory. We first make that person realise that we have worked very hard to reach where we are today and that we are serious about our work and worship it. So if you have to join our gang, you have to put in 100 per cent of yourself into the character and the serial as well. Ekta Kapoor has instilled in us that the show is bigger than anything for all of us.
Besides Smriti Irani, who is your soul-mate, who do you share a good rapport with from the team?
Komolika who plays my co-sister Gayatri is a very good friend. We can talk for hours when we are together. Then there is Sudha Shivpuri (Ba) and all the young girls, Damini, Ganga, Prajakta. There is nothing that we don't discuss about when we are all together. Nobody is judgemental about anything or anyone. We share all our highs and lows in life and that comes from spending almost 12 hours a day in each other's company.
She is the closest. And she is the one who gets maximum withdrawal symptoms if I am not with her on the sets when she is giving a shot. There are times when I am required to reach the sets two hours late and would like to catch up on my sleep but she will hound me on the telephone and make me reach her side as soon as possible. We are that close, moreso because I have seen her grow as an actor in these five years. She is a complete professional. For her, work is worship and she takes it very seriously. And that is the motto of the KSBKBT team : 'Give your 100 per cent and create magic on screen'.
You even joined her during her campaigning for BJP. Are you inclined towards politics in the near future?
Since I come from a politically-aware family, I am politics-savvy. If ever I join politics, it will be only to do more good work for Gujarati theatre. I want to take the Gujarati theatre to National level which is why I am working towards making all my Hindi plays into Gujarati. Besides KSBKBT, these plays are keeping me busier and practically every day I have a show all over India. After shooting for the serial till five in the evening every day I take a flight to perform a play in any of the towns in India. I am shooting for the serial 30 days while 30 nights, I am performing my plays.
How do you manage to find time and energy for all this?
One has to make oneself adjust to everything to be successful. Now it has become a part of my life and I am enjoying it. I am involved in everything, Gujarati TV serials, Gujarati and Hindi plays and KSBKBT. My play Adhura Thoy Madhura, directed by Feroz Bhagat, which is based on the Ravi Chopra's Baghbaan, has completed 453 shows till date. Recently, for the first time ever, it was performed in Hong Kong too to a very good response. Presently I am busy with a Gujarati thriller titled Aa Paar Ke Pele Paar in which you will find a different Apara, doing comedy.
If ever I join politics, it will be only to do more good work for Gujarati theatre. I want to take it to National level. Today I am working towards making all my Hindi plays into Gujarati.
Though you have been associated with Gujarati TV, you gained recognition as Paro in EMHSK. But it was KSBKBT that made you a household name?
EMHSK ran for four years and set the ball rolling for me as the bubbly Paro. During that time, I also did serials like Dillagi, Alpaviram, Hum Hain Anari, Love Marriage and Chandan Ka Palna. Before EMHSK came on Zee TV, its Gujarati orginal titled Sapna Na Vaavetar was already on air. I have done 1000 episodes of that and 1000 of EMHSK as well.
I started my career in Hindi in 1997 but I have been associated with theatre for the last 23 years. It is quite a long journey. And while EMHSK was famous, KSBKBT went on to create history.
Has your experience on stage helped you evolve as an actress or was it KSBKBT that was responsible for this?
To a greater extent, theatre has been responsible for making me a good actress. Acting needs intelligence and an artiste has to be alert enough to read between the lines and to portray it on screen. I have managed to understand the nuances of acting mostly through my plays.
You are a singer as well as a kathak dancer. How has this helped you in your profession?
My mother, Mandakini Mehta, was a Gujarati theatre artiste and so was my mother-in-law Leela Jariwala. My husband Darshan Jariwala is an actor. I had great support from home to fulfil my ambitions of an actor. Gujarati theatre is where my roots lie. For an artiste, it is an added bonus, if one learns dancing and singing as it helps his body language and movements. It makes one's performance more distinguished. I have learnt Kathak from Ghulam Mustafa Ali Khan and I was fortunate to have been able to utilise my potential. If you see, in KSBKBT, my eyes are my asset.
You have done very few films.
That's right, three so far. In Devdas, I played the kothewali. It was an experience of a lifetime to be working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali. When I told him that I was a Kathak danseuse, he did not even audition me for the role. Besides this, I have acted in Priyadarshan's film Yeh Tera Ghar Yeh Mera Ghar and played a call girl in Chori Chori Chupke Chupke.
Finally, today what does KSBKBT mean to you?
KSBKBT has given me the recognition which was eluding me so far. I am sure I would not have achieved so much even after working for 20 years in films. As Mihir's mother, I became the mother of every man in this country. And I am proud of it.