It is almost a decade since Divya Dutta started her tryst with Bollywood and the television. industry. Her performance in the recently released feature film Praan Jaye Par Shaan Na Jaye is being talked about in hushed tones by the masses. Although critics have blasted the movie and the bevy of big gun actresses, all of them have referred to Dutta's "exploited maid-servant" - and the "love scene" in the film.
Acclaim is not something new for Dutta! Dutta has won critical acclaim for her performances - Smita Patil and the Nargees Dutt Awards for the best actress for her role in the movie Shaheed-e-Mohabbat released in 1999. She was also declared winner of the Stardust talent hunt from among 30,000 candidates. She also won the best actress and best dancer award at the Punjab Youth Festival - 1993.
As far as television is concerned, Dutta has done what she claims were highly popular shows - Superhit Muqabla, Rajesh Khanna's debut serial Ittefaq, Sansar, Kadam - and she is currently hosting Deepti Bhatnagar's Musafir Hoon Yaaron on Star Plus. Dutta spoke to indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Kotian about her flirtations with various media - TV, films, music videos - Excerpts :
Tell us how television has helped you in gaining mileage? What are the pitfalls?
I have been doing both television as well as cinema. Television is the best way of getting exposure and gaining popularity among the mass audiences. An actor or actress needs just one serial to get noticed and become popular. Several Bollywood film producers watch TV serials and remember the actors while finalising their casts. This is my personal experience as I have bagged several film offers this way.
The problem starts after that the hysteria over that particular show is over. For instance, Navneet Nishan became so popular with the serial Tara that she didn't know what to do next. Popular TV stars get trapped in the roles which make them household names. There are others who waited for that "right next one" which never came their way!
There are others who have been so overexposed with TV that they could never break out of the stranglehold of the image they had created for themselves. The key is to strike the right balance.
Which are the serials you enjoyed working in? Was your work noticed?
I started off with Doordarshan as and anchor and my work was appreciated. I bagged Superhit Muqabla. Later on, when Rajesh Khanna made his TV debut with Ittefaq, I was approached for a role in the serial. This was followed by Sansar on Zee Television.
But the most memorable serial I acted in was Kadam on Sahara TV. Kadam was a delight because it helped me realize my true potential as an actress. The different stories enabled me to play different characters - each of them was different from the rest. I played a social worker, a sex worker, a Gujarati woman and many others. It was a learning experience and a challenge as well. Kadam was also aired on Fridays with a repeat on Sundays. In fact, noted film director David Dhavan used to watch Kadam and remembered me while finalizing the cast for his film.
After Shaheed-e-Mohabbat became a hit, many vernacular channels started pursuing me with offers. I turned them down. I eventually considered doing a big budget serial on Rathikant Basu's Tara channel.
"There are some who accept daily soaps knowing fully well that they might to sacrifice their social and personal life to a great extent"
How has the TV scene changed since the time you started work?
Now, there are several producers - some of them new to the medium - who are all coming up with interesting concepts. The number of serials have increased and so have the budgets for the same. But, I cannot say the same about the quality of content although production values are good. I also see a lot of experimentation with different themes.
Established stars are getting better remuneration than what we used to be paid earlier. There are some who accept daily soaps knowing fully well that they might have to sacrifice their social and personal life to a great extent. But, the nasha (high) of instant fame and fortune keeps them going.
I would say that those who are willing to discipline themselves will become successful. They can also extend the success to other media after piggy-backing on the TV success.
Are you keeping away from the medium of television and concentrating more on films?
I have no qualms about working in television and am balancing my films offers with TV serials, music videos and ad commercials. I have received several offers to work in dailies but haven't accepted them. It would be taxing to work 20 days a month. However, I am not saying no to offers - but I am being very selective.
Also, I am also not into the saas bahu kind of roles. It is a different thing altogether that Indian women love these serials. In a way, watching these women all decked up and dressed to the hilt is an enjoyable experience. I, too, have had my share of watching such serials. But, I don't want to act in them!
I must admit that I am open to the offers but am waiting for the right one which would be something offbeat.
Why did you choose Musafir Hoon Yaaron?
It was a very different kind of an offer - something which hadn't done. Also, the number of Indians - even those in the middle class - travelling abroad has been increasing steadily.
Dipti Bhatnagar's Musafir Hoon Yaaron has given me a lot of satisfaction. I have to shoot for 10 days a month and still manage to get a lot of time to do other things. My decision to accept the offer was an impromptu decision. I liked the producer's approach and the crisp way of presentation. I have to be very spontaneous even though the writer gives me the material. There is a relaxed atmosphere on the sets and I feel as if I were really on vacation.
I have noticed that people associate me with the show. At airports, people stop and speak to me about the show. I have already been to Burma, Europe and New Zealand.
"The mother had left India and gone abroad to stay with her daughter. But the poor lady missed the popular Indian serials shown on TV back home"
Tell us about some incident which occurred during the shooting of the serial Musafir Hoon..?
I remember this incident when I went abroad for the shooting of Musafir Hoon Yaaron and met this friend who has settled abroad. As soon as I entered her house, her mother started questioning me about Indian TV serials.
The mother had left India and gone abroad to stay with her daughter. But the poor lady missed the popular Indian serials shown on TV back home. Instead of questioning me about common friends and relatives, she wanted me to narrate the latest happenings on the small screen. This just goes on to prove how much television affects our lives.
You did Zee's telefilm (screened on the last Saturday of each month) earlier this year. It was an interesting concept but hasn't got the success which one thought it would. What is your take? Kambhaqt Ishq on Zee TV was a bold attempt - kudos to Zee and the producers. It was a two and a half hour story shot like a film. I know Tony and Deeya Singh well and have enjoyed working with them. When they approached me and narrated the story, I wanted to be part of the same.
The character I played had various dimensions - almost like a psycho. In fact, the storyline was similar to movies such as Ajnabee and Jism - a scheming person who is willing to go to any extent to acquire wealth.
The entire crew was so charged up that we shot 20 days at a stretch. Also, I had to develop this "sexy siren" kind of a look - in sync with the character I portrayed. The producer had hired a fashion designer who was a specialist. It wasn't really any kind of obscene exposure but handled in a very subtle and sophisticated way.
Later on, some friends told me that I had set the small screen on fire.
"The scene depicts something which definitely must be happening somewhere, someplace in some part of the country where women are illtreated. There is no nudity or titillation but it looks authentic"
You have developed this reputation of setting screens on fire. Tell us about your role in Pran Jaaye ....?
I am playing one of the several strong female characters in the women-oriented film. I was reluctant to do the scene initially; however, when director Mahesh Manjrekar narrated the scene and its importance, I felt that I could do justice to it.
The scene depicts something which definitely must be happening somewhere, someplace in some part of the country where women are illtreated. There is no nudity or titillation, yet it looks authentic. I am happy that film critics have taken note of the scene as it really stands out.
You will be seen in one more film with TV celebrity stars Aman Verma (Khulja Sim Sim) and Amitabh Bachchan (Kaun Banega Crorepati) which is being produced by Ravi Chopra of BR TV - a lot of TV connections. What are the other film assignments you have on hand?
I shall also be playing Amitabh Bachchan's daughter-in-law in Ravi Chopra's Baagbaan. The role has its shades of grey and I am excited about it since most of my scenes are with Big B.
I am also doing a comedy called Dubai Returned with Aditya Bhattacharya (Raakh fame). I have some cross-over English films - Indian Talkies and Birth of Death. In Indian Talkies, I play a pretentious foreign-returned girl.
My most prestigious assignment will be Shyam Benegal's biographical film on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose starring Sachin Khedekar. I am playing Netaji's 17-year-old niece, Ela Bose.
I am portraying the role of an air force officer's wife in Agnipankh - a film about air force pilots, directed by Sunil Puri. There is also Dil Ke Peeche Peeche and Devi- The Bride in Red with Milind Gunaji.
Then there is an offbeat Shobha Yatra, based on a talked-about play. It's about a group of actors who play historical characters.
" I enjoy watching television and love the SABe TV serials - Office Office and Yes Boss. I feel that Office Office is an intelligently and well made serial"
Do you get time to watch television despite the hectic schedules?
I enjoy watching television and love the SABe TV serials - Office Office and Yes Boss. I feel that Office Office is an intelligently and well made serial. I also watch the Balaji serials and love Kittie Party and Lipstick.
I enjoy doing music videos as I am a music buff.
Tell us about the offscreen Divya Dutta?
I am typical Libran - very indecisive. I need a lot of reassurance and am peace loving. I hate to cause any harm to people. I am ambitious but not necessarily a go-getter.
I love to workout and exercise regularly. As far as food is concerned, I have this desi approach. I prefer ghar ka khana - especially my mom's hand made food.