"It was only after Amitabh Bachchan's entry into it that the people began to respect television"

Himani Shivpuri has always been an enigma.

She has done some forgettable performances and some really unforgettable ones. She has always shuttled between films and television. She has been a part of many blockbusters. She lost her husband prematurely. Still, she evokes laughs when she tries her hand at comedy. What makes the lady tick?

Vickey Lalwani caught up with her at her plush flat on the suburban Jogeshwari-Vikrhroli Link Road in Mumbai. Excerpts from an interview.


How come we see you in both film and TV so regularly? Like you had 'Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon' lately and there's this serial on Star Plus-'Josh'?

I don't want to restrict myself to any one medium. Both have their highs and lows. Films pay much more. Plus nowadays they reach an international audience. As for television, you become a household name. As long as I am enjoying both, why not? Like I enjoyed doing MPKDH and Josh equally.


You have also done theatre, haven't you?

Lots. In fact, I am originally a theatre artiste. Television and films came much later into my life. I was travelling with my theatre group when I came across Kunwar Sinha who was directing Humrahi. He approached me after seeing a few of my performances. Ten years before this, I was offered Hum Log, but I refused it. They wanted me to do Chutki's role.

"Ten years before this, I was offered 'Hum Log', but I refused it. They wanted me to do Chutki's role"

A still from 'Josh... Aktion unlimited'

You refused 'Hum Log'!

I can see the expression of shock on your face (smiles). Well, Hum Log used to be aired twice a week. If I would have taken it up, I would have had to cut down my theatre assignments. I was headlong into theatre at the time. Theatre was my first love, my passion. Anyway, no regrets. My character in Humrahi ('Devki') made me a household name. Wherever I went, people started calling me 'Devki'. It was amusing at first, but soon I began to enjoy it.


And then?

Devki made film offers come in. People gauged that I was talented and they wanted to develop it. Sooraj Barjatya offered me Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. And I pocketed it without much thought. I had a gut feeling that this film would strike gold.


But how is it that you have acted in almost all the biggies like 'Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge', 'Pardes', 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai'...

(interrupts) I am a lucky mascot for blockbusters! (laughs).


How has television changed from the days of 'Humrahi'?

Ten years ago, television was looked down upon. It was said that it was a down-market medium. Even my secretary was against it. I must have discussed it with a hundred others, but I rarely met someone who said 'Go ahead. Do television.' Even after I became famous as Devki, most people advised me against it. They said, 'You are getting films. You'll end up ruining your film career.'

It was only after Amitabh Bachchan's entry into it that the people began to respect television. And today, every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to become a TV artiste. Leave aside the common man, some top heroines too have jumped onto the TV bandwagon!


Was the so-called advice of the people the only reason why you went slow in television?

That was one of the reasons. Somehow the films I was doing required a lot of outstation travel and had the presence of big stars. Being a character artiste, I could not put my foot down on the dates. I had to adjust as per the availability of the lead artistes. Hence, I could not take up much TV work.


But what about now? I mean, how about trying a daily now?

Well, I am doing films even now. And spare me, even the thought of working in a daily is frightening. I did Kasautii Zindagi Kay and Kyunki... (when Ketki Dave went out) for some time, but it was too taxing. Long hours, twenty-five days in a month, terrific speed...gosh!

Often, the script is ready only at the last minute. Everything is happening, happening, happening. When I was doing a daily which I won't name, I used to be told 'bas kapde pahan kar baith jao, script aane mein hain' (just get dressed up, the script should be ready any minute)! Artistes are phoned and told at midnight that they ought to report the same morning on the sets at 7 am!

The most tiring thing can be if you are playing the lead character in a daily. Oof!


Aren't films tiring?

Not at all. Sometimes, one scene stretches up to three days. There are press interviews in between, breaks in between, discussions on how to improvise in between. We are not on a jet plane.


Does the quality of work suffer in a daily?

Obviously. Everything is so time-bound. I am still for those weekly serials which Doordarshan had. There are weeklies on many channels, but can you see any of these channels doing something like Malgudi Days or Wagle Ki Duniya? Don't all the serials look alike? Don't all the women look the same?


I get a feeling that you are more for cinema and less for television...

(interrupts) Nothing like that. But you have to admit one thing. Television is like newspaper. You read it, and when the day is over, it has no value. Cinema has lots of repeat value. Not only characters, even the actors are remembered for a long, long time. Will you ever forget Ashok Kumar, Guru Dutt, Sanjeev Kumar and Johny Walker? However, I am not running down television. Please don't get me wrong. Take this as constructive criticism.

Television has the potential to grow as big as cinema, provided those who matter bother to experiment. This herd mentality has to go out the window. If one 'saas bahu' boat sails across the river, why does every serial maker barring a few want to sail in the same boat? At this rate, actors have hardly any scope to grow. They are just going on like machines. Today, even films are trying so many different things. Television is an economic medium comparatively. Why are the people who matter, holding it back?


So, the serials are dying in content, huh?

Exactly. There was a tremendous amount of truth in serials like Hum Log, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi and Khaandaan. Can any serial of today's times match any of these? Besides, I hate it when serials keep dragging just for the heck of it. What is done in this process is that even characters are suddenly distorted. A negative character suddenly becomes positive, a positive character suddenly becomes negative. A new track is born. 'Ab aur chalao, janta dekh rahi hai' (Drag it on, since the public is watching). When the 'janta' gets fed up of the new track, reverse the roles again. 'Ab aur chalao, janta phir se dekh rahi hai' (Drag it again, because the public is watching it again). Above all, the characters are shown to change their traits for a very irrational reason. The excellent medium of television is being wasted.


Have you refused any TV offers?

(smiles) Lots. I have been offered many scripts which have been badly written and characters which are flimsily sketched. If the roles are good, say like Office Office or P A Saab, I have done them. That they did not create history is a different matter. If you are wondering about some of my roles which did not register, well, there is no guarantee in showbiz anyway. I have always taken up whatever impressed my head and stirred my heart.


How did 'Josh' happen?

I signed Josh because it was not the typical 'saas bahu' family drama types which have become as common as salt and pepper. It's been quite different, isn't it?


Himani Shivpuri with Sudha Murthy on the sets of 'Dollar Bahu'
"This is the advantage that every theatre artiste has. If we can learn a two hour long stage portrayal, it's a cakewalk for us to learn a three minute scene"

How do you do the difficult scenes?

You mean the emotional ones, right? (laughs). Well, glycerine 'zindabad'. Or then, I relate to some personal experience in life and tears begin to flow. By 'difficult' if you mean the scenes with long sentences, let me tell you that I never have any problem in learning long dialogues. This is the advantage that every theatre artiste has. If we can learn a two hour long stage portrayal, it's a cakewalk for us to learn a three minute scene.


Heard of channel interference?

Of course. But I have never experienced it. Fortunately or unfortunately, I haven't had a portrayal yet where the channel wants me to be decked up in the kitchen as if I am going out for a party. Oh yes! Now I remember. It did happen with me once! I was doing a serial Dollar Bahu (shot partly in the US and partly in Mumbai). Suddenly the channel (Zee) realised that the women on other channels were flaunting a very decorative look. So our cotton 'kota' saris became silk!


Films in your kitty?

Bachelor (with Riya Sen and Raima Sen), Khulam Khula Pyar Karenge and KC Bokadia's Ek Haseena Ek Deewana (both with Govinda).


Final question. After the death of your husband, what kept you going?

That was a big shock, but I had to take care of my son. It happened when Dilwale Dulhaniya... was nearing its end. I did not shoot for the climax, that's why you won't see me in the last station scene. I engrossed myself in work... and am still going on.

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