'Too much preparation and you can't be natural' : Smriti Malhotra

Tulsi Virani is currently television's favourite bahu (daughter-in-law). And for Smriti Malhotra, things will never be quite the same. For it is she who plays Tulsi in the TRP frontrunner Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi - Star Plus' superhit soap. The popularity of the small screen actress reached its pinnacle when there was much grieving in the land over the twist in the tale where her husband 'Mihir' "dies". Grief turned to joy for audiences all round when Mihir was brought back from the dead, more so since their beloved Tulsi would now not have to remarry.

At the centre of the storm so to speak, Smriti is apparently unfazed by the phenomenal popularity of
KSBKBT and the character she plays. "I am too engrossed in my work to notice or be affected by the euphoria," says Smriti. "I wasn't affected when Tulsi's husband was projected as dead nor after his comeback," says the Virani bahu, who seems to have her feet firmly on terra firma. "The idea is to be objective about your work and to give it the same effort irrespective of success or failure. Because if one is not objective then it hampers work," she asserts.

Coming from a Punjabi family, Smriti grew up in Delhi. Academics, books and sports like javelin, shot put and volleyball made up her school years. "I was a pretty boring person," she quips. After finishing school she preferred to graduate via a correspondence course and gain some real experience helping her father in his export business rather than attending regular college. "I wanted to help my parents rather than wile away my time, splurging my family's money and passing time in the college canteen," says the one-time model who even made it among the final contestants in the Femina Miss India contest 1998.

After participating in the contest Smriti got many modeling assignments. Spotted by Shrey Guleri, Smriti was approached to anchor
Ooh La La which used to come on Star Plus. Her performance in the show was noticed by Shobhna Kapoor of Balaji Telefilms who signed up Smriti for their serials Kavita and KSBKBT, roles that are turning out to be the magical flying carpet to small screen success. Smriti plays Kavita in the weekly serial of the same name on DD-Metro.

Excerpts from a conversation indiantelevision.com's Harsha Khot had with Smriti Malhotra:

When did you realise you had an inclination towards acting?

I think it was while auditioning for modeling. It struck me that I wasn't a bad actress. Often after returning home I could think of 10 to 15 different ways of saying those 30-second ad film lines. Ooh La La was an opportunity for me to find out whether I could act and my judgment about my abilities was proved right.

How do you prepare before facing the camera? What efforts go into portraying the character in a convincing form?

I don't put in any special kind of hard thinking behind any particular character. I basically like doing things as naturally as possible. Because I feel the more you plan the more artificial it appears. So, I never sit and prepare. I see the script, read lines and act accordingly. There is nothing so uncommon that it needs preparation in any of the characters that I've done so far. A general sketch about the character is already given to you. But ultimately what comes out on the screen is the character they (the directors) perceive combined with what you think it should be. When I think from the character's point of view and act accordingly and am as natural as possible. Then the character comes out in a more convincing manner.

When facing the camera what thoughts cross you mind?

I don't think like Smriti anymore. The thoughts are from the given character's perspective.

If there are problems with the script 't what do you do?

When I don't agree with the script, I approach the director; tell him my point of view. I let him know that the script is not convincing. If the script isn't convincing then how am I supposed to convey it to the audience. So we then act accordingly, either tone it down or flash it up. Every director obviously knows to a certain extent that an actor has to be convinced. If he or she is not convinced then there is no point.

I read the script before hand, know the character sketch. If I feel something has been missed out then I approach the director or the set authority to make the changes that needs to be worked on. I normally give one or two takes only.

Does receiving the script at the last moment bother you?

I normally read the script just before giving a shot, because I believe in instant reactions for the scene. I hate to sit, plan and prepare. For instance these are the lines for the forthcoming shot. (Shows a printed page that has just been handed to her) I haven't read it as yet. Now after changing into the required clothes I read through it and know exactly what has to be done. Whatever reactions come would be instant and natural. If there is anything wrong with it the director will point it out and ask me to change it accordingly. So I'm quite comfortable with getting the script on the day of the shoot after reaching the sets. I am not uncomfortable with last minute changes.

What do you look for while signing for a serial?


What does it take to be a good actor?

You need to be a good thinker, and aware of the environment around you, not only on the sets but also outside it as well. You need to observe people closely, how they behave and react. It requires good memory and a strong belief in your work.

Among the characters that you've portrayed which one do you relate to most?

There is a part of me in every character be it Tulsi or Kavita. As regards Tulsi, she has a certain kind of confidence. And the love for her family is what I personally associate with. That is how I am in real life. The confidence she has to tide over matters. To live her life irrespective of the problems faced. About Kavita, the need to stand for justice irrespective of what the consequences might be. Like the character even I see things only in two shades, either black or white, the in-between grey shades don't exist for me.

Do you really cry as much as Tulsi does?

Nope. Anyway the character doesn't cry because she is helpless. The character does not cry because she can't do something about the situation. She cries because she's been hurt by the people she loves and it wasn't expected. I make sure that the character doesn't cry out of helplessness. I can't stand that 'Hai mai barbad ho gayee' kind of crap.

Do you use glycerin?

Of course. With so much crying required if it wasn't for glycerin I don't think I could manage.

When not shooting?

I read books, spend time with my family.

What makes a book readable?

A good story.

Which are your favourites?

Richard Bach's Jonathan Seagull, Little Women, Black Beauty, Diary of Anne Frank, Alchemist are few of the ones that I keep going back to.

Among the characters that you've enacted, which one did you find most challenging?

Kavita was quite challenging as compared to the ones in Aatish and Kyunki. She is somebody who stands up for justice irrespective of consequences even if the people involved are relatives. It was challenging because a lot of the time we don't do a lot of things because of fear of the consequences.

What do you see in a script?

Any thing that is different from the ones I've done before. If a script is given with the message, 'the character is actually a bit like Tulsi' then it immediately turns me off, compelling me to say no. I want to do something different.

Who are the directors with whom you would like to work?

None in particular. Every director has a different style of functioning and approach towards the project. No actor can actually claim to look for a director or script. We are lucky when we get a script, then we are told who is directing it. Then we are lucky if with everybody's efforts and inputs it turns out to be a good project. We are not like in Hollywood where we can pick and choose directors. They choose us. Today if the director thinks I am right for the project and would do justice to it I'll be hired.

In acting what are the things you find a challenge?

A new emotion. Maybe portraying anger in a different manner, or sarcasm in a different way. What is challenging is to make the audience accept me as an angry human being. They've accepted me as an emotionally distraught human, as a weak girl, a crazy mother and an anchor. The image of the goody-goody Tulsi is so huge that it will be challenging to break it.

What do you feel is lacking in your work?

I don't know. You'll probably have to ask my director or co-star that.

(Smriti turns toward Reena Wadhwa her costar in Aatish. "Maybe she was a little stiff initially," says Wadhwa.)

Acting with stalwarts like Neena Kulkarni really got me nervous. They would tell me 'we know you are good, but why are you scared'. And then onwards observing the senior artist helped me improve and get better. In Kyunki I was pretty chilled out. By then I had worked with Neena Kulkarni and I was confident enough not to be scared of giving my own suggestions. Earlier I used to go word by word according to the script. I used to be scared of how people would take my inputs. Then I figured out instead of being too bothered about what people would think I should go with my own instincts. And it worked.

Isn't Kal Aaj Aur Kal getting over? Any forthcoming serials?

Yes, soon. But presently, I am only shooting for Kavita, Kyunki and Aatish.

Were you recently shooting for a pilot at Juhu?

Yes, but that's just a pilot and it is not going to be on air that soon. The forthcoming ones would only be on air in three to four months, and a comedy in another four to five months. Otherwise it's too boring to be overdosed by one actor for the audience. Besides, interesting scripts don't come up everyday. People work on them for a long, long time. Good scripts happen that way.

Any good actor or serial on television that you observed so far?

I don't know about good actors but I know of good films. I don't like heroes. I like stories and the way it is told. As a matter of fact even a good actor cannot carry a bad story on his shoulders. There are few film that were pathbreaking and could be studied as a whole unit. Agnipath for instance. Amitabh Bachchan modulating his voice to portray the character. It was very different and came at a much later stage in his life. Then Shah Rukh Khan in Dilwale Dulhaniya Leh Jayange. There was something different about both of them in those movies. For the first time there was a certain control in Shah Rukh's hand movements, a conscious restraint in his expressions. Those are some things I studied.

As for programmes on Indian television there is only one serial that really had an impact on me. A serial called Udaan. After that I haven't come across a single programme worth watching in its entirety. Malgudi Days, Bharat Ek Khoj. Khandan and Kanyadaan were serials that made me stop and watch them without immediately switching channels.

What about Udaan had an impact on you?

Udaan was aired when I was growing up and that was very important since it had a certain influence on me and made me look forward to watching it. The desire to stand up for what is right in Udaan is somewhat similar to the one inKavita. The need to fight for what is right, that inspiration comes from Udaan.

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