"The audience wants to see trendy attires, stylish mannerisms. Just being plain does not work"

Goes the age-old saying 'Marry in haste and repent at leisure'. Not many of us have proved age-old sayings wrong, but Kunika Sadanand Lall is one of those few exceptions.

A dreamy Alice-in-Wonderland kind of child, she challenged her parents to marry her Prince Charming. She soon realised that she had committed a blunder, but by that time, she was pregnant. Unable to win her child from his father who later married again, she broke away to start life anew. And then... rose like a Phoenix from the Ashes!

Today, she has carved her niche... on television and celluloid. Her's is the first name that comes to mind if a male has to be confused, mesmerised and cheated on screen. The art of confusing, mesmerising and cheating lies in her smile. Her's is the first name that comes to mind if a male has to be seduced on celluloid. The art of seduction lies in her eyes. She can safely be called the 'Tube's Queen Of Manipulation'. "I have not kept my scorecard of serials and films," she maintains.

On the flip side, she has just produced a serial titled Strivers and Achievers for DD Metro.

Importantly, she is happy on the personal front too. She has remarried and mothers a three-and-half year old son.

Excerpts from an interview with Vickey Lalwani, who caught up with her on the sets of Manish Goswami's Kittie Party.


Shall we have a little of your childhood?

Why not? Rewind. Ever since I entered my teens, I had stars in my eyes. I used to day-dream of a knight in shining armour (laughs). But on the flip side, I knew house-keeping very well. Like, I could easily tidy a messy room or even cook a meal. Suddenly, one day, I saw a man in a churidar-kurta with a shawl draped around him. I went crazy. I had an Amitabh Bachchan fixation. Amitabh used to dress like that. I told my friends that I'd marry this guy. 10 days later, I met the same man at a friend's house... and we started chatting. He asked me out for a date. I was not even 16! My parents were not too liberal, but they were not the imposing types. They thought that I was simply infatuated, and the relationship would wear itself out.



Two months later, he came over and asked my father for my hand. My father was totally against it, but my mother kept explaining that he should see it from his daughter's mindset and perspective. We married despite objections from several other quarters too... but marital bliss was short lived. I soon realised that I had married at a very young age; and that it was difficult to adjust to an inter-caste marriage - I belonged to a South Indian family and my husband was a Marwari. One year later, I had a son. Two years after that, the marriage was over.

"There are some who accept daily soaps knowing fully well that they might to sacrifice their social and personal life to a great extent"

And your son is with...

(interrupts) He is with his dad. We were fighting for his custody until he was 12 years old. Initially he was staying with me, but his dad kidnapped him! One day, my son himself asked me to give up the fight. He said, "If Dad is not willing to budge, at least you can. How long will this ordeal go on?" That time I was in Delhi. I was working, but my friends and relatives advised me to shift to Mumbai - they said I needed to put my entire past behind me.


How did television happen after getting to Mumbai?

En route to Mumbai, I met Asrani. During those days, Manju Asrani's Kashmakash used to be on air. I used to watch it quite regularly. I went and spoke to him. He suggested that if I wanted to praise Manju's work, I should call her up personally. He gave me her number. I don't know what struck Manju, but she asked me to come and meet her. When she saw me, she asked me whether I would be interested in working in her serial! A classic case of 'being in the right place at the right time.' She asked me to don some clothes and some make-up, and said, "If you look the role, you are on." She sent me to Yashoda, the girl who was doing the clothes. Yashoda called her to say that I looked just what she wanted. The next thing I knew was- we were leaving to shoot in Pune.

Frankly, I was very apprehensive. Manju told me, "You will get as much from one episode of my serial which you won't derive from a 9-5 job in 30 days." I agreed. I, who used to cry every day since my marriage went on the rocks, did not shed a single tear in those four days. I realised that I could not wither away God's greatest gift to mankind- life. I also realised that I had it in me to make a career in television. I got my portfolio done, did some PR with letters, and soon, the rounds to TV-serial makers and film producers began.


Even film producers?

Yeah. I even wanted to taste films. But incidentally, my second break also came from the TV world. Dheeraj Kumar cast me in Adalat.


When did films happen?

Soon after Adalat, I was offered a Pahlaj Nihalani film Paanch Paapi directed by Shibu Mitra. Then I got a lead role in a film called Kabristan. But somehow, people started seeing me as a vamp. I was even labelled as Bindu's successor! Even today, I have a good crop of films- Kyon, Wah Wah Ramji, Dil Chura Ke Chal Diye, Ma Santoshi Ma and Insaaf- The Justice.


What draws you to a script?

I see the script and the people, both. To be honest, I first see the people and then the script. Even if it's the greatest script of all times, you can't work with people you aren't comfortable with. I don't want to spend eight-10 hours of my day with people who would leave me irritated at the end of the day.

"Be it in TV or in films, there's a herd mentality; if one producer casts you in a vamp's role, every other producer wants to follow suit"

How did you get slotted into the seductress-vamp bracket?

(laughs). People come up to me and say that 'I look very sexy on the small and big screen, both'. I take it as a compliment. I don't know how it happened, but I guess it happened for the good. Initially, I tried putting on weight in order to run away from such roles. But then, I decided that why not make use of things which were falling into my lap?

How can anybody discard his/her trump card? I was all alone in Mumbai and I needed work to keep myself from avoiding those unpleasant memories coming back to haunt me. Be it in TV or in films, there's a herd mentality; if one producer casts you in a vamp's role, every other producer wants to follow suit. I guess it all started when Mahesh Bhatt cast me as Deepak Parashar's wife in the tele-serial Swabhimaan. You will be surprised to know that all my forthcoming films have been in a positive shade. But I know that people will remember me for the Swabhimaan and Kittie Party roles more.


What kind of an actor are you?

When I come to the sets, I switch my mind off. That's not easy unless you are really happy from within. Thankfully, I am happily settled today, and have once again become a mother. My husband Vinay Lall lives in California. He is the Director of Operations of a chain of restaurants titled 'Olive Garden'. We alternately visit each other every six months.

You deviated from the point. After you switch off your mind on the sets... then what?

(laughs). I did not deviate from the point. You will know why. Now for your answer. Then... someone starts doing my make-up and I start reading and memorizing my lines. I don't take any lines home. I have seldom even asked that what will happen to my character in a particular serial after, say, 15 days. Acting is timing. This timing stems from the heart. If you are at unrest, you will never get that timing. So now you know how I hadn't deviated from the point (laughs).

"Current television focus is on quantity and not quality"


Your weaknesses as an actor?

I have a problem with saying the lines in the exact manner in which they have been written. Like if the line is 'maine tumhe aisa to nahin kaha tha', I'll end up saying, 'main tumhe aisa to nahin keh rahi thi." The meaning remains the same, but I use my own words. As long as the meaning is intact and the grammar is correct, the director does not mind.
Do you apply glycerine when you have to cry?

Rarely. It is easy for one to say 'I don't apply glycerine at all. I always get into the skin of the character and start crying.' This is just blowing one's own trumpet. On certain occasions when the scene is too long, you do need some. But if it is not too long, it is not difficult for my lachrymal glands to start secreting. I start thinking of the ordeal I underwent to fight for the custody of my first son.
Looks are becoming a very important aspect on television...

(interrupts). It's a welcome change. If I come across as a shabbily or garishly dressed woman, I would be an insult to the senses of people. It is very important to look good. Today, the audience wants to see trendy attires, stylish mannerisms. Just being plain does not work.
"It is not difficult for my lachrymal glands to start secreting. I start thinking of the ordeal I underwent to fight for the custody of my first son"

Senior actresses are known to throw their weight around...

(interrupts) Hello! How could you so quickly forget my pain and struggle? I can never throw my weight around, even if the serial-maker is shooting his first day.

All that I tell my serial makers is that I will never say abusive words like 'kamini', etc, while enacting a scene. I lose my cool when I say/hear foul language being used against women on screen. Also, I will never smoke for any role. Earlier, I used to. An incident at Sophia College opened my eyes. A young girl who was my fan, came running up to me and said that she seen me smoking in a role (in Mahesh Bhatt's film Gumrah), and since then, she was following in my footsteps!


How is the television scene today in general?

It may appear very rosy from outside, but appearances are deceptive, you know! There are two big ills plaguing the TV industry.

1) Most TV-artistes are grossly underpaid. There are some big banners who pay just Rs 500 per day to their cast members!

2) There is too much of haste while the shooting is in progress. The deadlines are terribly stringent, artistes are not given a breather in between the shots to get into the right mood as per the demand of the next scene, shots are okayed quickly, retakes are hardly any. Focus is on quantity and not quality.

It's okay for me as I have come a long way already, but what about the aspirants who are the students of the game? What about the aspirants who want to evolve as good actors? What about the creative satisfaction part? Things have got so mechanical.

How did you conceptualise your show 'Strivers & Achievers'?

Having worked with Dr I.S Gilada, I have been actively involved with AIDS awareness campaigns for almost 10 years. I have visited jails and even counselled people with AIDS. I realized that people who have some kind of problem are stronger and have more positive energy about them than people who have everything going for them. They have a tremendous amount of inner resolve. I wanted to make other people see the hidden strengths of these people and derive the same from them.
"Everything on television should not begin with a 'saas bahu' story! Surely, there's more to life!"
What inspired you to actually start it?

I watched a lot of Oprah Winfrey shows when I am in America. Inarguably, Oprah was doing an excellent job. She made people speak about their suffering, fears and insecurity. I thought it would be a great to do something like this in India where people are faced with more pain, insecurities, poverty and diseases than people in the US. I did some research and started meeting people with various kinds of ailments and handicaps. I also unearthed some success stories. Everything on television should not begin with a 'saas bahu' story! Surely, there's more to life!
Why did you choose DD2 to air your show?

I showed Strivers & Achievers to Sony but found that they were not too enthusiastic about it. That also made me wonder why I was targeting satellite channels. A national channel would definitely be a better option owing to its greater reach. So I opted for DD2. I have been sanctioned 26 episodes.
Any unfulfilled dreams?

I have two dreams in life. The first one is to be Oprah Winfrey and the other is to become a playback singer. I do not know if I will ever achieve them (laughs). Along with Strivers & Achievers, I also want to start a trust to help the needy and the poor. It will be a very transparent thing.
Parting shot. Why did you marry again?

I fell in love again, yaar. But wait a minute, this time I did not take a hasty decision. I saw for a long time that this man could contain a strong, independent woman like me who leads life on her own terms. I made sure that this man knew that marriage is a mixture of compromises and sacrifices. Only then...

Five years from now?

Either I will be in the US after completing all my assignments, or Vinay may shift to India.

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