"We don't bitch and backbite about each other. In many other serials artistes just do that"

At 65, she is blazing guns in arguably the most popular serial in the history of Indian television. There is hardly a day when she does not appear in your drawing room at 10.30 pm. I have a few works lined up, but still reach a trifle late for my tryst with the lady. Blame it on the dug up roads and traffic jams in aamchi Mumbai.

"Come in. Don't start off a long apology on why you are not on time. Who doesn't get late here? I understand," she says with a beaming smile. An artistic wall-portrait of her late husband smiles in the background.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome senior citizen Sudha Shivpuri, wife of the late Om Shivpuri and mother of actor Ritu Shivpuri.

Excerpts from an interview with
Vickey Lalwani:


How did you get into acting?

I was in the eighth standard. My father had passed away and my mother had to run the house. One day, she fell very ill. And I thought I had to do my bit to bring in some money. Surely, the kitchen fires could not be extinguished! I first started with plays.

Then I switched over to Jaipur Radio, which had just begun in those days (1955). Later, I joined the National School of Drama (NSD). By that time, I had met Om. In fact, we had worked together on radio and in plays. Even at NSD, we were together- in the same batch! We fell in love. We married, but not before we had waited for nine years (1968). After that, we started a theatre group Dishantar, which did so well that tickets were sold in black for almost every show.

We shifted to Mumbai in 1974. Om was getting offers in lots of films. He was doing three shifts a day! At that time, our first child Ritu was two years old. Somehow, even I started doing films- Swami, Insaaf Ka Tarazu, Hamari Bahu Alka, Saawan Ko Aane Do, Sun Meri Laila, Burning Train, Vidhaata..... I was also offered a few serials at that time. Like I did Aa Bail Mujhe Maar and a few episodes of Rajni, in which I played Priya Tendulkar's mother-in-law.



Suddenly, I thought I should focus on one stream. I used to reach the film sets at 9.30 am, the hero and the heroine used to strut in at 12.30 pm. Everybody used to get excited and call for a lunch break! One scene after the lunch break, and it's tea time! Maybe a scene after that and maybe not, it's pack-up time! I decided that focussing on television would be more sensible.

My husband was doing well enough for all of us. I began to think: Why should I neglect my child and cool my heels on film sets? Besides, I was never the ambitious type. I started going slow on films and got pregnant with my second baby.

After the second child (son), I was almost entirely devoted to the family. Suddenly Om passed away, my daughter was 18 and my son was 13. This was in 1990.

To keep something going, I started an acting class. I even tried my hand at opening a general store. Neither of these worked. I shut them down and decided to go back to acting.


How did the second innings begin?

Through a coordinator. I landed roles in a few episodes of Missing and Rishtey. Those days were not easy. You know how it is when you want to work but don't have anything. But in my heart of hearts, I knew that this was a lull before the storm. Something had to happen. And it did! One fine day, I got a call from Balaji Telefilms.


And you met Ekta Kapoor?

(smiles) Right. She asked me if I was game to playing a mother-in-law in Bandhan. I had no qualms. Five months later, she approached me for Kyunki...... My joy knew no bounds when I learnt that I was going to play the head of a big family.


Big family alright, but does such unity exist in today's times?

Even if it doesn't, we have succeeded in making people realise values and relationships. Many nuclear families which were earlier joint are going joint again, families have written to me that they have imbibed a lot of moral values from this serial.

"Thanks to my beautifully sketched character in 'Kyunki...', nobody now offers me any insignificant stuff"

At 65, how do you maintain the stamina needed for the rigorous demands of a daily and do other serials as well?

Yes, I have done other serials alongside Kyunki....- Sheeshe Ka Ghar, Waqt Ka Dariya, Daman, Santoshi Ma, Yeh Ghar. I can't lean on Kyunki.... forever. God forbid, but it has to end one day. After that, what? If I refuse work now, the same people will not give me work when Kyunki... is over.

As for my stamina, I think we all have the stamina for everything, provided we have the inclination. The inclination, however, stems if and only if you are enjoying your work. As of today, I am passionately in love with my work. I have not refused any work of late. Refuse karne ki gunjayish hi nahi thi. Thanks to my beautifully sketched character in Kyunki...., nobody now offers me any insignificant stuff.


Still, how do you adjust with dates? A daily requires you to be on the sets for at least 20 days.

Yes. So, I allot the remaining dates to other serials. Of course, my first priority is Kyunki.....


Why do you consider your character to be beautifully sketched?

See, I am the nucleus of the serial. Everybody respects me. Despite not being shown as highly educated, I sit with the youngsters with a far more open mind than their parents. I am aware of the latest fashions and trends in society. It's just fantastic. Believe me, when the serial took that 20-year jump, I was sure that I would still be alive. I didn't even ask them whether I fit into the scheme of things. Even after my husband in the serial (Sudhir Dalvi) passed away, I was not worried that my character might die. I was so confident.

"We received umpteen messages asking for Ba's revival"
That reminds me, you were shown to be on the verge of death a few weeks ago. Aren't such episodes a drag, or rather, a torture to the viewers?

(smiles). I don't think so. You need something every now and then to keep the suspense alive. You may have understood that I was not going to die, but many others had got too engrossed in that track. We received umpteen messages asking for 'Ba's revival'.

Anyway, that reminds me. I was really very sick when those scenes were being shot. But still, I did not miss the shooting. I well know how much Ekta will stand to lose if the shooting goes haywire for even one day. Those scenes where I was supposed to be ill, the studio had been booked for a full day. You must feel the cost your boss is incurring. That's an essential criterion of being professional.

Is the young lot equally professional? I am not pinpointing 'Kyunki.....' but asking you in general.

I understand. Well, the young lot has a long way to go. They are not so devoted as we were in our young days. I don't know why. Maybe, it's got to do with their 'mantra' of life being quick and fast money. In our times, we spent two hours every day on practice. Today, how many youngsters would even join theatre? One thing irritates me no end. The young crop keeps giggling as and when emotional scenes are enacted. Little do they realise that these are the scenes a)where you grow as an actor, and b)which are responsible for making the serial click.

Apart from the emotional scenes, what has made 'Kyunki....' click?

There are three more reasons - a) Every character has connected with the audience in a personal way. Like, many bahus feel that they should be like Tulsi , many grannies feel that they ought to be like me. I have had cases where women in their 90s have come and fallen at my feet asking for blessings. b)We are a united force- be it the Viranis or Mandira or Payal. We don't bitch and backbite about each other. In many other serials, artistes do just that. c) We listen to each other and try our best to understand the point from the other person's perspective.

Like when the serial fast forwarded 20 years, there were at least three or four characters who wanted to quit; they said they would not adopt the elderly look as they would get stamped with the look. I convinced them. I explained to them that they were playing a character. Didn't the all-time greats Sharmila Tagore and Sanjeev Kumar play elderly characters in Mausam?

Talking about the 20-year jump, what role did you play in your new look then?

See, my clothes are always going to remain the same and I am not going to wear lenses. I only needed to change my body language. I told the director and he asked me to suggest how to go about it. I started going to various temples and parks. I sat and observed the elderly lot. After a few days, I changed my walk. A deliberate limp was introduced. That did the trick. The day I started limping in Kyunki...., I was flooded with mails that I had done the right thing.

"The worst part is that there is no comedy serial going on that can raise a laugh"

With the younger crop playing elderly roles in television these days, doesn't the scope for aged people like you decrease?

Definitely. But what can I do? I will continue on my steam and hope for the best. At the end of the day, there isn't much to worry though. All the youngsters are not convincing when they play more than their age. So don't worry - if you are my fan, I shall remain here for you.

Which has been the most difficult scene you have performed?

I don't find anything difficult. Perhaps the fact that I have been a theatre artiste comes to my aid. But yes, now that you ask, I remember. There was a scene where I had to sit and talk to Babuji's photograph telling him that I was feeling lonely. While doing the scene, I thought I was talking to Om. Not a single drop of glycerine was used.

Do Balaji Telefilms pay well?

I have no problems. Some ugly, hyperactive and imaginative minds keep maligning the name of this production house for no rhyme or reason. Of course, Smriti Malhotra is paid the most- but as I told you, none of us have an ego. Like tonight, she leaves for Australia. So, her scenes are being done today. We don't even bother about who gets the most scenes.

Are you satisfied with the quality of content offered to viewers?

Not at all. There is a dearth of good scriptwriters. All scriptwriters have become either copy-cats or clones of each other! The worst part is that there is no comedy serial going on that can raise a laugh. Even if a good comedy is written, what is the use? The casting will be done by the channel and the director will sit in his seat just minutes before the first shot. Now tell me, how can the channel cast people in a comedy serial? Timing is the most important aspect in comedy and who can choose the cast better than the director? He knows who fits the bill and who doesn't. Alas! No wonder, all our comedies on television these days are a farce.

Are we going to see you in films now?

There is one - Pinjar (Manoj Bajpai, Urmila Matondkar). They called me when Dina Pathak passed away. I refused to step into Dina's shoes as she was my senior. The role was changed to suit my presence. And there are two more films which I am not supposed to talk about now.

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