'For acting, you need to be in touch with yourself ' : Prachee Shah

Switch on to any channel Sony, Zee, Star or DD and it's quite unlikely that you'll miss having a glimpse of actress Prachee Shah. Her acting was noticed in Koshish, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, and Kundali and it was this that landed her the central role of Payal in Sony's new daily soap Kahin Diya Jale Kahi Dil.

Introduced to the world of classical dance and music when she was just three years old, Prachee has been bestowed the prestigious title Shringarmani for her contribution to the Kathak dance form. She is the youngest dancer in India to earn this title. A student of Jamnabai Narsee School, in western Mumbai's Juhu suburb, Prachee's tryst with acting began during her college days. By the time she passed out from the Raheja College of Architecture in western Mumbai's Bandra suburb she already had a well sketched-out role in Koshish airing on Zee.

Managing her acting and dance routines was fine until recently when her shooting schedules went haywire with the launch of two new daily soaps
Manzil Apni Apni on Zee and Kahin Diya Jale Kahin Jiya on Sony which premiered on 30 April and 1 May respectively. In order to meet the launch deadlines, Prachee found herself working 20 days and 20 nights at a stretch managing just two hours of rest a day in between shifts. "In those two hours I would come home freshen up rest for the remaining time and then be back on the sets for round-the-clock shoots," she recalls. She even managed to fit in a dance performance for the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation in Mumbai in between all this.

In the middle of her hectic routine, it was only at around 10 pm that she was able keep time aside for practice at her home while shuttling between different shoots. Backing out from the serial was out of question since the unit was banking on her. The experience has only left her richer with experience.

Looking somewhat refreshed after three days of rest to recover from "jetlag of sorts" post the round-the-clock shoots, Prachee Shah took time off to speak to indiantelevision.com's Harsha Khot before heading out for yet another shoot, but this time more determined to make a stand about shooting dates to prevent similar "fiascos" from recurring.


You have a rather diverse background to say the least what with a background of architecture, dance and singing. Was taking up acting a calculated move?

In a way, yes. I've often noticed that major dance and cultural festivals often have either Hema Malini or Meenakshi Sheshadri's (both filmstars) dance performances as the main highlight of a show. Often organisers have ignored me for similar dance and cultural shows despite being the youngest dancer to be honoured with coveted Shringarmani title. On asking the reasons for being "sidelined" festival organisers would point out that the situation was that people bought tickets only because of the famous actresses' names attached. Otherwise nobody would be willing to shell out Rs 500 to watch a performance, however good it might be.

And it is true what they say. During performances at the Jaipur Mahotsava (December 2000) and at Rang Sharda (14 April) in Bandra, people actually flocked to get a glimpse of the actress who has acted in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kundali and Koshish Ek Asha who can also happens to dance. Moreover the response I got backstage had to be seen to be believed. Isn't it ironic, it never ceases to amuse me, watching people flock to see the girl who plays these TV characters dance on the stage but yet do not value 17 years of dedication that has gone to make the dance possible. The reactions are mostly 'Oh! You can dance also.'

Coming back to acting. How did you get your first break in television?

After I won a Miss Bombay Teens contest in '95-'96, as a part of a gift hamper I got a portfolio done. It came out pretty well and on the insistence of my friends I gave it to the event coordinator with the hope of getting some ad assignment. It just so happened that Ravi Chopra, who was directing a forthcoming mythological serial, was looking for someone to portray 'Parvati'. The coordinator asked me to go for an audition. It was just a day before the actual shoot of the serial was to begin that I went to meet Ravi Chopra. On getting to know that I was a classical Kathak dancer, he offered me the role on the spot. I had no prior acting experience in television serial, but he assured me it wouldn't be a problem and asked me if I could come on the sets for a shoot from the very next day.

Did you ever consciously want to get into acting?

No. Like I just told you it came my way and my father suggested that there was no harm in giving acting a shot. I had apprehensions about acting in a mythological serial based on Amar Chitra Katha since one tends to get labelled. But once the shoot began it soon faded away

Who is your favourite director? What about makes him better compared to other directors?

Anuragh Bose (director of Koshish). First and foremost his style of working. He maintains an amiable atmosphere on the sets. His friendly approach puts everyone on the sets at ease. His way of shooting scenes which tend to give a 3D effect with just the right amount of light. He treats it like he is working for a film. Probably that is the reason the visual effects of Koshish is quite different from other serials. For instance, generally in a scene where two people are talking the takes are very obvious. One master-shot showing the two people converse, then one close-up of each, a head shot then again a long shot. But with Bose on the director's seat things are quite difference. He would go for slow panning shots over a trolley even if it meant fixing the trolley would take half an hour more. Then, unlike directors who compromise on shots in order to meet the shooting deadline, Ashutosh doesn't seem to compromise on this aspect. He allows the unit to pack up at 6 PM if that was the time decided and continue the next day from the point where they broke off.

What difference does a good director make? And have you experienced both the sides, good and bad directors?

A lot, especially as far as putting the people on the sets at ease goes. I can site an example which may have nothing to do with direction but the indicates the approach of the director to his unit. There are some directors who after the scene is shot retire to their rooms or stay secluded. I personally feel that if the director mingles well with the unit it would cut down a lot on the efforts wasted in silly hesitations. It generally happens that I wonder whether the director's direction is to be taken as an order expected to be obeyed or can I approach him with a suggestion. Would it anger him or would he welcome it?

What does acting mean to you. How do you work on you acting skills?

Acting means expressing yourself and reacting to the character opposite you as naturally as possible but in situations that are completely imaginary. It requires a tremendous amount of concentration, and a certain strength. And for that you need to be in touch with yourself. I don't think acting is an effort really. I have been performing before audiences for a number of years through my dance recitals and that takes care of more than 60 per cent of whatever effort has to be put into a shot. The only thing that one has to be particular about is that in a close up take the eye levels are different. Usually you get a hang of it in due course of time.

You say dancing on stage has made acting easy. Could you tell us more on this?

Since I have been giving stage performances for a long while, facing the audience as well as the camera is almost second nature. A silent solo dance performances lasts for anywhere between two to three hours, and the story has to be conveyed to the audience though the body and facial expressions. So shooting a scene isn't very different from what I do on stage.

What are the things that you had to do in order to overcome lack of acting experience?

I worked on my voice. Earlier I used to take Urdu diction, which helped me in singing and also helped in improving my Hindi and dialogue delivery.

How do you prepare for a shoot?

Generally I want the script at least a day in advance, but that's not always possible, so it is at the pre-production discussion session that I try and get a better picture about the graph of the character.


From the point of director's cue "roll"? to till he says, "cut" what goes on in your mind?

I simply switch into the character's profile. Act and react the way character would.

Hopping from one location to another for shoots of different serials, how do you maintain the graph of the character?

Considering the familiarity in the location, the ambience, the unit, everything seems d?j? vu and the character effortlessly comes by the moment I walk onto the location.

How did you get yourself into a situation where you were working continuously for 20 days and 20 nights together?

I had already given the dates for three serials that are already on air. Meanwhile I did a pilot for Manzil Apni Apni andKahin Diya Jale Kahin Dil, and both of them got approved at the same time. Since the Manzil Apni director is the same as in Koshish there was an understanding that the dates would be shuffled between the two. But things did not work out that way. My inexperience in dealing with daily soaps all added up to a regular mess. And since the bank of 20 episodes had to be done, they simply had to be done since the telecast dates were already announced.

Among the roles that you've enacted which was the most challenging?

The one of Payal in Kahin Diya Jale Kahin Dil. On the her wedding day there is a dramatic turn in her life where her mother-in-law is unwilling to accept her because of her past while her husband is adamant he will marry her though he is in love with somebody else. In such a situation the character is fighting against her in-laws, her husband's lover, her own past and trying somehow not to hurt anyone. So the challenge lies in portraying the way she deals with everybody individually with varying intensities.

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