"Television acts on subliminal levels far more than cinema does"

His entry into television was purely accidental. He was only 15 years old then. Thereafter, he did many serials but his moment under the sun kept eluding him... until one fine day when Balaji saga Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii fell into his lap. Today, he is a household name.

Ali Asgar- the Kamal Agarwal of Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii- who bears an uncanny resemblance to Bollywood actor Rishi Kapoor in his younger days, says, "Serials have given me recognition. But I don't want to restrict myself to the tube. I am lured by the big screen. I will continue to do serials but ensure that these projects do not block my dates of the entire month. I am getting film offers," he begins his tete a tete with Vickey Lalwani.


What's so exciting about films?

Let's face it. Serials cannot give you the fame and fortune which films can. So I can't keep looking at the creative aspect of my career only. I have to take the commercial aspect into account. But I will never make films my sole domain. My roots lie in television and I will never pluck my roots out. Currently, I am working in Vikram Bhatt's forthcoming film Aitbaar starring Amitabh Bachchan, John Abraham and Bipasha Basu.

I play Bipasha's close friend. John misunderstands that Bipasha and I are having an affair. Then I am doing Shakil Noorani's Jaan Ki Baazi starring Sunjay Dutt and Mahima Chaudhary, which is an extension of his earlier film Joroo Ka Ghulam. Some years ago, I did a small role in F C Mehra's Chamatkar starring Naseeruddin Shah and Shah Rukh Khan.

"Comedy is the most difficult thing to enact, but Indians neither understand nor appreciate it. That's a tragedy. Somehow, they like to cry very often"

Do you agree that an actor should avoid exposure on television if he wants to make a mark in films?

A new face that's well presented gives a fresh look to a film. There's no denying that, but the bottom line is that if the film is good, it will work. Whether the actor is a television actor does not matter.


Are you doing only 'Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii' presently?

No. I am doing Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu's comedy serial Allah Meri Tauba for Urdu ETV. Soon, I am starting to shoot for a Rakesh Sarang directed weekly for Star Plus.


Rewind. Trace your evolution as an actor?

It just happened in 1987 when I was in the tenth standard. I had taken part in a few plays in school, but just for the heck of it. I never wanted to make acting my profession. My younger brother and I were cycling near Sea Rock Hotel in Bandra where director Rajiv Mehra was shooting for his film Jaal. My brother was stopped by the film unit and asked to report for an audition, the next day. At that time, Rajiv was not present on the sets. My father took him along to the Eagle Films' office, and I too joined in. Rajiv thought that my brother was too young to play the role he had in mind, and instead asked me to take part in the audition.

A few days later, I got a call saying that I had been selected for a serial Ek Do Teen Chaar which would be loosely based on Enid Blyton's Famous Five adventure stories. Since the main cast comprised of kids, the shooting was kept in such a manner that it did not clash with the school timings and examination schedule.


So 'Ek Do Teen Chaar' was the bug that induced the acting itch in you?

No. Actually, I had put Ek Do Teen Chaar behind me after it got over. I had got down to serious studying for Hotel Management. I was aiming to make a career in the restaurant business in a foreign land. I had even received an appointment letter from a foreign restaurant. At the last minute, my parents broke down, saying that they will not be able to bear the separation. I started considering other avenues. According to me, hotel management as a career in India is not rewarding enough.

"If my character who never goes against his parents has mended the ways of even one person who had lost his way in this regard, I will be the happiest man in this world"


The satellite boom had amassed high proportions, those days. I decided to experiment with TV serials, as I had done one before. I approached some serial makers, and luckily, work started coming in. As on date, I have done Gharonda, Do Aur Do Paanch, Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, Parampara, Kartavya, Karz, Chashme Buddoor, Khatta Meetha, Itihaas, Kutumb, and of course, Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii. I will never forget the day Ekta Kapoor tossed me the role of Kamal Agarwal when I approached her for work after finishing my assignment in her Itihaas.


Why couldn't you register, or say, leave an impact, with the serials you did before 'Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii'?

In most of those serials, and even the films Chamatkar and Joroo Ka Ghulam, I did comedy. Comedy is the most difficult thing to enact, but Indians neither understand nor appreciate it. That's a tragedy. Somehow, they like to cry very often. They empathize with the positive character who is wronged by society, very strongly. They are attached to my character Kamal Agarwal who is taken for a ride by his wife Pallavi (Shweta Kawaatra) and yet continues to be supportive to his elders.


What attracted you to the character in 'Kahaani....'?

The character's simplicity, simply. I am enjoying playing someone who is absent in today's world. Hasn't the sacrificing guy become an exception? Where are the guys who look beyond their own nose and place their family's interests before their own? The parent-child relationship is the only relationship left which can boast of selfless love. How many of us treasure this relation? Love between a man and woman is materialistic.

I am saying this from a personal experience, which has left scars. If my character who never goes against his parents has mended the ways of even one person who had lost his way in this regard, I will be the happiest man in this world. In fact, I am. I am sure that someone or the other must have has idolised Kamal Agarwal of Kahaanii.....

.Today, television has a wider reach and a bigger audience than cinema. Importantly, television acts on subliminal levels far more than cinema does.

"I never get jittery before a difficult scene"

How much do you identify with this role?

Completely. If whatever happens with my character happens with me in real life, I will do exactly what I have done in the serial. Like, I would certainly marry the girl which my brother can't marry at the last minute. My parents, brother and sister would be my first priority.


How involved are you with your clothes and look in your serials?

That is one thing I am very involved with. Unless that is not done properly, the characterization is incomplete. It is also nice to know that many channels these days take a special interest in all the characters and their clothes. It helps a lot to know that you are looking good. It straightaway enhances the character and adds to an actor's confidence level.

What do you feel is your strength as an actor?

My strength lies in the fact that I never get jittery before a difficult scene. At the risk of sounding boastful, may I say that I can portray the most difficult shot in a light manner and make the character seem like an everyday character. I claim that I can never be melodramatic.

Many serials of Ekta Kapoor are not doing well, but 'Kahaani....' continues to hold sway. Why?

This is primarily because this serial propagates strong moral values which were present in our culture until recently. These days, however, India has no culture left. The elder generation is perturbed at the way it is being treated by its children. So, our target audience is the elderly folk. They are being told through this serial that they have a voice which needs to be raised against the ill-treatment meted out to them. The other day, Dipak Kazir (Babuji) and I were stopped by a 50-plus man who told Kazir that he was gaining a lot through Kazir's portrayal as the head of the family.

How much homework do you put in before every portrayal?

So far, I haven't got to act in a historic serial which requires a lot of reading and makeup to get into the skin of the character (laughs). I am a switch-on-switch-off actor. I never take my lines home, though at times I have been offered to. I simply come on the sets, take my lines, sit in a corner, and am ready in some time.

I don't judge my performance on the sets. That's a director's job. I am totally at the beck and call of my director. The director is the captain of the ship and we artistes are mere passengers. I do not even whimper if I am asked for 10 retakes for a particular shot. Nobody is perfect.

But yes, I request my director to change the lines as and when I feel that Kamal cannot be speaking like this. I have been playing Kamal since the past two years now, and I know which dialogues will distance him from the audience. Like, if the director asks me to overreact against Parvati 'bhabhi' and Om 'bhaiya' once in a while, I tell him subtly that the viewers will not accept Kamal saying such stuff to someone whom he literally worships.

Have you goofed up a shot anytime?

Humans make mistakes and I am no exception. There's one goof up which will remain entrenched in my memory. In fact, it took place in Kahaani ....There's the scene where I am shown to have come back walking all the way from the Siddhi Vinayak temple after praying for Parvati bhabhi's health.

I painted myself black and overdid the huffing-n-panting so much that I appeared to have walked down from Vaishnodevi in Kashmir. It became quite an embarrassment later. A lot of friends and relatives criticized me for this scene the next day. I wonder why the director did not notice it while taking the shot.

Would you slash your fee if the producer insists?

Once in a way, but only if the role is an exceptional one. Candidly speaking, either the role or the money has to be good before I sign on the dotted line. As I told you earlier, both the aspects of a career, creative and commercial, are equally important. But I'll have to be careful not to leak out my discount deal. Else every next serial/film maker will ask me for a discount (laughs). Money is important in life. Thankfully, I have never had any problem with my payments so far.

Not even with Balaji Telefilms who are said to be bad paymasters?

I don't know why these things are being said about Balaji Telefilms. I have always received my money in correct amounts and on time.

Have you refused a role anytime?

Earlier, I used to grab whatever came my way. But thankfully, now I can be choosy. Post Kamal Agarwal, I can't appear in forgettable roles. Don't expect me to do roles which are not an integral part of the script. Lately, I refused offers from UTV and Cinevista. I want meat, not fluff.

Who are the TV actors you idolise?

None. I have set my own standards on television which I am going to achieve. Mind you, those standards are very high. The people who come close to those standards are incidentally from Bollywood- Sanjeev Kumar, Agha and Mehmood. According to me, Agha had the best comedy timing. No comedian from contemporary times can match any of his performances.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

I see myself having attained my high standards. But destiny can be funny and cruel. So, wish me luck!

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