'There is a lot more to express while playing a negative character' : Shweta Kawaatra

Viewers love to hate her, and yet can't wait to get back home, tune in to the idiot box and relish watching choti bahu (younger daughter-in-law) 'Pallavi's antics (played by Shweta Kawaatra) to break up the joint family in the serial Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki. The tussle between the eldest bahu 'Parvati' (played by Saakshi Tanwar) and the youngest bahu 'Pallavi' has so caught the fancy of audiences on the tube that it has become the second most watched daily soap in India. Often it's the negative shades that makes a story more gripping and interesting and Shweta has more than managed to get into the skin of such a character.

The Delhi-based former ramp model got into acting by chance. While doing her graduation she had entered the '
Femina Look of the Year' contest. That is where she was spotted by Hemant Trivedi and Lubna Adams (ramp show coordinators) who expressed keenness in using her as a model for their shows and asked her to come down to Mumbai. Since Shweta was just 19 years old then, she chose to stay put in Delhi until her graduation. She secured a degree in English literature from Jesus & Mary College in the capital. But that initial brush with the arclights had left an impression. And she came down to Mumbai looking for a break in the fashion world. Lady Luck played her tricks and chose instead to direct her into the world of histrionics - on the small screen.

The serial
Suhana Safar aired on Zee marked her debut in serials and was followed by serials like Yeh Kahan Aagaye Hum and Darr. She shifted to Mumbai city from Delhi after signing up more daily serials like Ghar Ek Mandirand Bandhan. Her most recent role in Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki has viewers glued to the TV episode after episode wondering what would be her next plot to score over her arch enemy - her sister-in-law 'Parvati'.

Indiantelevision's correspondent Harsha Khot catches up Shweta Kawaatra and finds out what makes this former national-level roller skating champ tick, especially in roles such as the (in)famous 'Pallavi'.


Shweta Kawaatra & Saakshi Tanwar in 'Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki'
What made you take up acting?

I was still doing my graduation when I came to Mumbai around four-and-a-half years back. I actually came here because I was already into ramp modelling. I came to Mumbai in the hope of getting into commercials. I started to meet model co-ordinators and then through word of mouth I got a call to audition for the serial Suhana Safar which was going to be aired on Zee. I auditioned for it. It was simple. And by just reading out a script I got selected.

When did you realise acting was what you wanted take up as a career?

During the making of the serial Suhana Safar, after I got friendly with the unit people. The initial phase of acting was a bit difficult because you are not being yourself. A person has to sit in front of the camera surrounded by 20 people, laughing or crying not because you feel like doing so, but only because the script says so. The very idea of laughing and crying or conversing with someone, going through this whole gamut of emotions really intrigued me. This made me more determined to become an actress. The next serial I signed up was a Vivek Agnihotri serial called Yeh Kahan Aagaye Hum. It had a slightly different character in which I play a role of a business minded diplomat. After this serial there was no looking back, and I never really even tried to get into commercials again.

Among the roles that you've played which is your favourite character?

My favorite of course is 'Pallavi' in Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, because this character is allowed a lot of liberties. The minute someone leaves the room I can make lots of faces, I can smile, roll my eyes, give a dirty smirk or do whatever I feel like doing but within the limitations of the character. There is a lot more to express while playing a negative character than the goody-goody kind.

Portraying a good character does limit you because in the eyes of the audience you have to build up towards being a good person. While being bad there are no such limits. Although now in the current episode being telecast, it is being shown that the character Pallavi has begun to mellow down a bit as Kamal (her husband in the serial) has become a little more assertive in life. I miss making those sarcastic comments because they had become a part of me. When I reach the sets of KGGK I get into the skin of the character but NOT before the camera rolls (smiles). Another thing that makes Pallavi my favourite is the way she dresses, walks, talks, her hairdo. Everything has been created by me. Ekta (Kapoor - the creative head of Balaji Telefilms) also guided me in giving the right kind of expressions.

What went into the shaping of the character Pallavi?

The character Pallavi is a creation of the mind, that too someone else's mind. To create that personality I had to sit down and talk a lot with Ekta who conceived the character and the serial's director, since it does take time to know what this character is all about.

Pallavi is usually dressed in chiffon or georgette saris and her hair is always left untied. Generally, in Marwari families, once you get married then you have to wear a pallu (veil) covering your judha (hair bun), and a nath (nose ring/ pierced nose).

During the first day's shoot, I, as Pallavi, was made to wear juda, nathi, pallubangles and dressed traditionally like everyone else in the family. After the first scene I went to meet Ekta?something wasn't right in my mind about the way I was dressed. I spoke to her suggesting that since the character is different, could I not be different in my appearance also? I went on to describe how I saw the character Pallavi . Not much of jewellery, simple earrings, no nathni, as I didn't want to adorned with jewelry or makeup. Pallavi's role demanded that I don't portray myself as being a happily married women. My intentions are to break the house, then why should I spend so much of my time sitting in front of the mirror. It was not for my husband Kamal because I was not in love with him. I don't even want him. We don't even sleep together on the same bed. I sleep on the bed all alone while I make him sleep on the sofa. Pallavi would follow what the family does if she was the same as the other women in the family. Ekta was pretty okay about the change.

I worked on the character and made it appear slightly different from the rest. Ekta told me exactly how she wanted the character to be.

You wanted the character to be different because the character is rebellious?

Well, not exactly. The character is negative so there had to be a difference. Pallavi's intentions aren't the same as everyone else's in the joint family. Pallavi has come to their house solely with the intention of breaking up their family as she thinks that the family had been unjust towards her .

When I understood the character in my mind , I realised that Pallavi has to keep herself under control and hide her real self from her fellow characters. But in her own mind there are no limitations; she can be as devious as she wants to be. That's exactly the side Pallavi shows to the audience when someone leaves the room.

Shweta Kawaatra & Saakshi Tanwar in'Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki'

What went into sketching out the character?

I asked too many questions. I even asked how should the character laugh - for maybe she is a reserved character and wouldn't laugh the way I normally do in real life. I wanted to know what exactly is her mental make-up; how she thought; how she behaved, talked; how expressive is she? Is she timid? Or is she glamorous?

While playing the role I tried to inculcate those qualities on the set and tried to express them in that manner. Then I spoke to the director to get his feedback. Was the shoot okay? Or did I go overboard? Or am I doing less of what I should have done?

It took me a maximum of about four episodes to really get into the character.

Apart from Pallavi which other character got you completely engrossed?The other role which had me completely engrossed was Priya's role in the serialDarr. It was a completely non-glamorous role. If I even put a little bit of lipstick I would get a call from Star Plus asking me to remove that and apply a neutral shade. I always had to be sore-eyed. Priya is married to a crackpot, and is a mother of a six-year-old. The character her husband plays is that of a psycho so she has to deal with a lot of difficult situations. The character Priya is very scared of life since she has never stepped out due to her husband's dominance over her. But later on she tries to get out of this relationship and goes on to become a strong-minded person. I got very involved with that role because it I had to portray a very emotional person.

Your career began with Suhana Safar. What was the character like and what appealed to you about it?

I can't pinpoint exactly what appealed to me at the time during the shooting ofSuhana Safar. Now I can think from an actress's point of view and decide for myself, but at the time I didn't know what I wanted. Everything seemed to be alright. The role was about a split personality, a Jekkyl and Hyde character. The girl I had to portray has a very homely, sweet character, she has a fianc?, but there is another side of her where she's just the opposite. Her alter ego has a devil-may-care attitude , wears micro-minis and wants to have a ball of a time going to bed with every man who catches her fancy. When she returns to her home and hearth she becomes the same homely person once again, so the character really appealed to me. There was nothing in both of the split personalities that I could completely identify myself with.

How did you feel when you were facing the camera for the first time?

I recall that I was terribly nervous when I first faced the camera. The first scene was that I had to seduce the character Madhavan. The character that I had to portray was the dark side of the split personality. In the scene, she pours champagne in two glasses, goes around the bar counter, downs the two glasses, approaches Madhavan and runs a finger around his face. I expected something non-alcoholic - says water or a soft drink but the producer had actually kept a bottle filled with champagne. I was so nervous that I simply couldn't give an okay shot. So we had many retakes. I ended up drinking the whole bottle. And the scene was shot successfully and okayed. But I got totally drunk, losing control of myself.

Did they want realism to that extent?

Couldn't water have been used instead of champagne? I don't know. That is something I realised much later. I did not know that they were not supposed to keep actual champagne. I have no clue why they did that. By the time I realised it was too late, then I never really bothered to ask them why they did that.

What was going on your mind at that time?

Oh uh? twenty absolute strangers around me and I have to go and seduce the character played by Madhavan! With no acting background, I was so shy that earlier on I would not act in front of the mirror even when the room was empty. So many people sitting around me, watching what was happening with their eyes on me, and to top it all I had to even seduce a man! I think that the alcohol in the champagne worked and made me lose all my inhibitions.

What are the things that you consider now while taking up a role?

First of all, I see the depth of the character I have to portray. If the character that I have to emote is not too deep then I can't make the character strong. There are many things that go into making a successful character. I can only put life into it by good acting. But if the role is not written well, I can't do much about it. It should be strong in some way and only then I can make it stronger and act well. Of course the director should be good, someone I feel comfortable working with, otherwise I would be tense, if it's someone who has a problem with me or with somebody else. I might not be able to shut my mind from the problem and that could reflect in my work.


What goes into enhancing the performance from the one that is given in the script?

Enhancing the script, depends on how well you express the tone of your dialogue delivery. I generally don't interfere with the script unless I feel something is amiss or if there is an important line and something needs to be added.

Since I am so much into the character, for instance while acting like Pallavi I would say certain things which I thought would enhance the character. I would approach the director and inform him. If the need be, I would call up and check with the scriptwriters if it was ok if we made some changes.

You also anchor a show. Will you tell us about it?

I am anchoring a show on the small screen called Ek Main Aur Ek Tu. It basically involves interviewing a couple who have had a love marriage. My script for this serial consists of their real life story. I prefer not to read the script because then I begin to look a little artificial and my questions don't come out so smoothly. If you don't know the script, then you can ask impromptu questions and your reactions are natural, you don't have to act. And acting when I can be myself doesn't give me a good feeling. In case I miss out an important question than the director points it out, otherwise I just keep chatting.

Do you prefer to read the scripts in advance?

No, I like to read them on the sets just before the shoot so that it remains fresh in my mind and I remember all my dialogues.

How do you improve on your acting?

I improve on my acting by being observant and trying out different ways of portraying the same character. Sometimes my co-star and I try different ways to act and it really helps if the co-star and you vibe well. Chaya (Rinku) and me vibe well. In fact I've learnt a lot about being spontaneous from her. She would add a line suddenly in the middle of the script and cue me to join. At times the repartee between us goes on even

Shweta Kawaatra & Rinku Dhawan in'Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki'
when the dialogues in the script are over. Your really have to be attentive, so that if somebody adds a line in between the script you shouldn't be caught dumbstruck and that has happened to me quite a few times.

As an actress how have you progressed?

I have progressed a lot but still a have a long way to go. When you get accepted by your audience, people come and tell you that they appreciate your acting. The layman doesn't really know you so when they come to you and tell you that you are doing a good job, it feels that you must be doing a good job. I definitely have improved. I have become more spontaneous, not being spontaneous was my second biggest drawback (her first drawback according to her is that she talks a lot and asks questions). I would only go by what was written in the script. I wasn't aware that it was okay to add a word or two of your own while delivering dialogues as long as you remember to say them while giving other shots and maintain consistency all throughout. With experience I got adept at being spontaneous. Now I try and experiment on expressions. Suppose I am given an expression to act out, I try out those emotions in four to five different ways.

What do you feel about the success that Pallavi has got?

I feel that whatever little hard work we have put in for Pallavi's character role is paying off. I like it when people say 'We hate you but we like you'. A lot of young girls come up to me and tell me we want to be like you. I don't agree with them because they don't realise that it is just a character on screen. I don't want them to be like Pallavi because some day they will also get married. I don't want them to get influenced wrongly by this character and go about breaking their homes, but I can't really go to everyone and tell them that this is just a fictional character being played by me.

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