"There is no 'masala' in 'Kyunki…' without me":Jaya Bhattacharya


"Hey! Am I happening on television?" she asks, when I call her up to seek an appointment for an interview. I keep mum. Obviously, she is. Heena on Sony TV has seen a welcome change with her introduction in the role of Nadira Mir- the volatile and arrogant lawyer who takes up cases only for men (for inexplicable reasons) and hasn't lost a single case in her life so far.

Payal of Kyunki... on Star Plus needs no introduction. And of course, she has left a marked impression in her serials right from Zameen Aasman, Kahani Hi Jeevan Hai, Kammal, Kaise Kahoon, Koshish- Ek Aasha, Smriti and Virasat, to name a few. She chuckles, "Okay, I was just kidding. Tomorrow, I am not shooting. Come along home in the evening." Mumbai.

An hour later than the appointed time, I am ringing the doorbell of Payal, sorry, Jaya Bhattacharya's flat at Malad. She rushes out of her bedroom with groggy eyes. "Why don't you make yourself comfy until I just freshen up?" she suggests. Five minutes later, she is lighting up a cigarette and settling across me. "Shoot," she giggles. And then suddenly turning serious, she says, "Call me Jaya, not Payal."

Excerpts from an interview with Vickey Lalwani.


How did the acting bug bite you?

Let's start from here. I am the only child of my parents. So, naturally, I was overprotected. I was doing my tenth in a hostel in Allahabad. I had come down to Lucknow, my home town, for a few days. I was about to go back to Allahabad, when someone I knew from a music college called to ask whether I was interested in dancing to a Holi song in a telefilm. I had done my training in classical dancing and singing. I don't know how, but my father agreed. He himself took me to the director, who made me do a couple of steps. I didn't take it seriously and did whatever came to mind on impulse. Next day, my dad woke me up at 5 am. and said, "Get ready. We have to reach for the shoot. You have to act. It's happening today." And I screamed at him, "Did you say 'act'? I was supposed to only 'dance'!"


Sorry to interrupt you. You said "I didn't know how, but my father agreed." Could you elaborate a bit on that?

My father was strictly against the filmi stuff. He was all into classical dance and music. He used to say 'filmi songs are stupid.' Even today, he is the same. He does not recognize Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan! (laughs).


Back to where you were…

Fine. Then, I got a play Ek Hati Manu. The play was based on the life of Rani Laxmibai. I was given the title role. I rehearsed for the play for three months. It was a great learning experience. Then came my first telly serial- Neem Ka Ped for Lucknow Doordarshan. The programme then went on Doordarshan too. The beginning was nothing sensational. First, I was given a scene in which I had no dialogues. Then, I had a scene in which I had just two dialogues. It progressed very slowly. However, they began to like my performance and my character began to evolve. But my twelfth standard exams began looming large and I had to drop out midway.

Then I met Arun Bali and S M Zaheer who asked me to audition for Devi Chaudhrani based on a novel by Sarat Chandra. I didn't even know what exactly an audition was. A few comical moments occurred during the audition. However, I was selected. Zaheer introduced me to Manohar Shyam Joshi who in turn introduced me to Ramesh Sippy who was making Zameen Aasman at that time. Midway somewhere, I had done a series of episodic stories titled Ashta Bhuji for Lucknow Doordarshan. This one made me a known face in Uttar Pradesh. The ball had started rolling. I was getting a few assignments, for which I had to shuttle a lot between Lucknow and Mumbai.


And then?

I began to know many people. Then, I came down to Mumbai for eight days for a pilot to be shot by Bhappie Sonie. My dad was unwell, so I came alone. Eight days became 15 days, and 15 days have gone on to become eight years!

And believe me, I hadn't got even my portfolio done. All my assignments were coming through when someone had seen my performance somewhere. I was not pushing my glamorous pictures for people to have a look.


So things started happening, huh? But what if they hadn't?

Simple. I would have packed my bags and gone back to Lucknow. I don't hail from a very well-to-do family who can support my struggle and stay in an expensive city like Mumbai.


Fast forward. How did 'Kyunki…' happen?

I have been with Balaji Telefilms for quite some time now. It all started when they called me for Itihaas. The character was good but the remuneration offered was peanuts. I refused. I tried meeting them midway, but the deal did not materialize. After a couple of years, they called me again. I was offered Bandhan in which I played a mute girl. Then came another Balaji serial Koshish- Ek Aasha. That was a brilliant role. I had a gamut of emotions to portray- my husband was not loving me, I was childless, then I conceived and delivered, then my baby died. And then came Kyunki...

"Maybe I have to work extra when a brilliant scene comes up, which rarely happens these days since the scenes are pretty short as many new characters have sprung up"

What attracted you to the character of Payal?

Frankly, I was shocked that they wanted to cast me in a negative character. I was known in school and college for my soft face. At times, I used to force a friend or two to accompany me when I wanted to drive home a point to any new person. I don't know whether I really have a soft face, but my friends had rammed it into me that I do. I sat down and thought. I said to myself, "What's the harm in trying it out? 'Nahin click hoga, to nahin click hoga. Do char galiyan padegi. Use jyada to kuch nahin ho sakta.'" I signed on the dotted line.


You said the remuneration offered by Balaji for 'Itihaas' was peanuts. How is it now in 'Kyunki…'?

It's okay.


Many names in 'Kyunki' have become household names. Does the remuneration increase if and when the character becomes popular?

First things first. Touch wood, my character of Payal is really popular. Whenever I am missing for a period of time, the TRPs drop. They have to call me back. The cast and the crew call me the 'P' of TRP ratings. There is no 'masala' in the serial without me. As for the rise in remuneration in 'Kyunki…' is concerned, it has nothing to do with the popularity of the character. We all get a raise after every one year. However nominal or good, 'theek hai'. We don't complain and mess around. As you said, this serial has continuously benefited many of us so far. And there is no reason why the benefits would stop coming (smiles).

Who worked on your look?

I did most of the things. I suggested that I'll wear the brown lenses. I feel these give a catty look, which is so intrinsic to the character. And before you ask who suggested me to roll my eyes in circles, let me tell you that it just happened. When I did it for the first time unknowingly, the director was highly impressed. So I just kept doing it. 'Ab to ek aadat si ho gayi hai'.

Again I myself worked on my hair and clothes. Like recently, I have cut my hair. Some time ago, I had a 'jooda'. My character is such that I can play around, unlike Smriti Malhotra (aka Tulsi) who has to wear the saree in a particular way, the bindi, the 'mangalsutra'… There is no rigidity of anything in my portrayal.

Are you comfy with the whitener in your hair?

It's okay. It's a part of my job. I have used it before when I played Ronit Roy's mother in Kammal.


Are you a spontaneous actor?

There 'is' a method as and when you are new in a project. You take one step at a time, you ask 10 people how am I looking, you suggest a change in dialogues, you do not want to be disturbed when you are memorizing your lines, you even end up imitating someone. Once you get used to it, there is spontaneity. You begin to live that character. You literally flow. You don't need to prepare at all. At least that's how I feel. Like, having been for nearly three years in Kyunki…, now I don't have to retire to a corner and say 'Hush' to my costars when I am learning my lines.

'Learning' is a wrong word, I am 'reading' them. Believe me, I even know what Payal is most likely to say next in most of the shots. The only exception is the time when the track is taking an unexpected, dramatic turn. Or, maybe I have to work extra when a brilliant scene comes up, which rarely happens these days since the scenes are pretty short as many new characters have sprung up. Above all, so many directors have changed that we sometimes tell the director, "Tum chup raho. Hum karlenge. Tum sirf 'action' and 'cut' bolna (laughs)."

But when it comes to weekly serials, or say, a new set-up, the role of the director cannot be undermined.


If you see on the monitor that you haven't delivered as per your expectations, do you ask for another take?

I don't watch the monitor. I am very critical of my work. If I see, I will cry 'Maine Aisa Kyon Kiya?' I don't even see myself on television. I know what I have done. I am very much aware of even some scenes wherein I have not done a proper job- by giving a wrong expression or skipping a word. If you are working 48-72 hours at a stretch, your mind is bound to stop functioning at times.

"If a female suddenly disappears from the serial, her refusal to be part of the casting couch could be one reason"

What? 72 hours at a stretch?

Yeah. Like, I was shooting for Devdas for 10 nights for a song. During the daytime, I was doing Kyunki…, Koshish-Ek Aasha, Kaise Kahoon and Smriti. Imagine! On the fifth day when I came back from the Devdas to the Koshish- Ek Aasha's set, I immediately fell asleep. Anurag Basu (director) caught my shoulders and took me to the spot where the scene was meant to be shot. I had to say a dialogue standing beside a bed. The moment Anurag left me, I fell on the bed. Again he made me stand. He screamed the dialogue into my ears and asked me to open my eyes and narrate it. He went out of the camera at the last minute. The shot was captured, thankfully. I had done it! Hip! Hip! Hurray! (laughs).

Have you enjoyed working in films?

I am an actor. I would not mind any medium. The role and the money should excite me. It would be difficult to say whether I have enjoyed in films, because until now, I haven't got sufficient footage. In Lajja, I had only two scenes. The second one lit up the screen, but the first one left no impression. In Devdas, I had four scenes. But there was nothing magnanimous about the character. I have another film Kise Se Na Kehna (starring Sanjay Kapoor) coming up. I am keen to do strong, weighty roles. Let's see. As of now, I am loving my stint in television.

What would you say about your journey thus far?

I have met many good people and a few notorious ones as well. But the notorious ones have not been able to affect me, as I have not let it happen. Let me count. Hmmm… well, there have been just two notorious ones. One was, or is, a big time photographer who wanted to shoot my portfolio at a concession! And then there is this director who is very famous for his 'extracurricular' activities (laughs). Any Jane, Fane, Shane will do for him! He offered me a serial. My boyfriend Rahim and I knew about his Jane-Fane-Shane fetish. Rahim told me to do the serial. He said, "Go ahead. Just because we have these kind of people, you should not give away the opportunity. Handle him when it happens." And it happened, midway through the serial. I walked out. My character ended (laughs, laughs and laughs). All said and done, there are very few wolves in the TV industry.


So you mean to say that if a female suddenly disappears from the serial, her refusal to be part of the casting couch could be one reason?


You have always been the bold and frank type…

(Interrupts) Maybe because I am not a film actress. Well, I have always been like that. I am living-in with my boyfriend for nearly eight years. I cannot tolerate lies and injustice. I don't want to marry and have kids. I would rather adopt some. There is enough population in this nation. So many kids are yearning to get love, care and education. Why shouldn't I rather help a few of those?
What are your future plans?

I want to earn lots of money as I want to become a producer- be it films or TV serials. I also want to work for the benefit of stray animals and street children.

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