"The casting couch does not exist in the TV industry"

After a eight month hiatus from television, Rupali Ganguly (daughter of veteran filmmaker Anil Ganguly) stormed into our drawing-rooms by replacing Shilpa Kadam in Star Plus' weekly hospital series turned soap, Sanjivani.

Television is not the be-all and end-all for her. Films were never a burning ambition in her. Yet, she is a gifted actress of the new block. "I was getting straitjacketed into the goody-goody girl types. My problem is that I don't want to the same kind of roles. Like films, you do get typecast on television too. My role in Sukanya (B4U) and even the double role in Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin (Sony) were too white. I could not identify much with those.

Who has so much of white? My role as Simran in Sanjivani has too much of grey, sorry, black. Who has so much of black?" she begins.

In a heart-to-heart chat with Vickey Lalwani, she traces her journey, defines her 'modus operandi' and also reveals some dark secrets of Bollywood she stumbled upon along the way. Excerpts -


You came as a pleasant surprise in 'Sanjivani'...

(interrupts) Thanks for saying 'pleasant', but it's not 'surprising'. Replacements in serials midway are a common feature (smiles).


Being the daughter of a film-director, you must have been used to the glamour of Bollywood. Why are you settling for TV serials?

Actually, I tried my luck in movies. But I flopped, circumstantially. It took me some time to accept, though. If I wanted to make it, I could have.


What do you mean by 'circumstantially'?

I'll tell you later.


Tell me about your first appearance in films.

I started in movies in my dad's film (a Bengali venture). I was studying in the ninth standard then. The film was a super-duper hit. But somehow my dad never wanted me to join films. Anyway, he gave me a bait. He said that if I could secure 90 per cent in the tenth standard, I could go ahead in films. I secured 89 per cent. He did not relent. Instead, he set a fresh target for my twelfth standard. No prizes for guessing that he was indirectly pushing my film aspirations under the carpet.


But why?

Simple. Bollywood is a bad world.

"It is difficult to register when you come in as a replacement. But do you know that after I got in, the TRPs of 'Sanjivani' have shot up? "

Did he tell you that, openly?

Never. My dad has been a parent and not a friend. There has always been a slight distance between us. I have to be very careful in front of him- no foul language, no non-vegetarian jokes.


What happened after you joined college?

Well, after the twelfth standard, my brother sent my pictures for the Femina Miss India contest. My family has a very middle-class mentality, yet I was selected for the preliminary rounds. In fact, I went till the last 20! I talk very smartly. That impressed the judges, I guess.


What do you mean by hinting that the middle-class mentality could have gone against you?

I mean- my make-up was very ordinary (my mom applied the lipstick and my mausi did the 'kaajal') and my costumes were very much covered. I come from a family where girls do not wear low-cut blouses or tie sarees below the navel. Even today, my dad insists that I wear only a saree, above the navel of course, on family functions.


A little more about your dad... before we go further?

He is really, really strict. Not so long ago, I would not be allowed with friends beyond 8 p.m. So I never got addicted to the party culture. Even nowadays, I party just once in a blue moon. The time-restriction has been extended to midnight though. As for his film-making, he does not intend making any more Hindi films at least. Gone are the days when stars respected the film-makers.

Today, every film-maker has to literally run after the stars. And before he catches up with the star/starlet, he has to break through the cordon of the star/starlet's 'chamchas'. This haughty attitude of today's artistes, which smacks of bad professionalism, is one of the main reasons why the film industry is in the doldrums. Anyway, why should my dad waste so much of time and energy? He has won enough acclaim in life. He is a contented man.

Then what happened? I mean, after the Femina Miss India contest?

I got a film called Do Aankhen Barah Haath. Govinda and Bappi Lahiri were involved with that project. Both of them are close to my dad. So he agreed. I also did Angara which was a home-production. Madhoo had a problem adjusting to Mithun Chakraborty's dates, so I stepped into her shoes.
"God help me when I am doing a difficult scene with Vikram Gokhale. A difficult scene becomes doubly difficult, then!"
And then?

Then, I received several offers-- but things didn't work out. I was told that... (shrugs her shoulders and laughs).
Told what?

I was made to realise that the casting couch exists. I had an option to take it and become a star, or go into obscurity.
What did you do?

I cried. I dared not tell my dad, but yes, I did tell my mom. She told me 'it depends on how ambitious you are, but considering the way we brought you up, you shouldn't be doing it.' I backed out and threw the acting bug out of my system. For your information, that film had a big filmmaker and two new heroines. I was supposed to do one of those roles. The film flopped but both those girls got lots of mileage. That was what I meant when I said that I flopped 'circumstantially'.

And then?

I started pursuing my studies. I joined Hotel Management. I completed the three-year course. All of a sudden, I was offered TV serials. I guess that was the result of my theatre work, which I used to do alongside my studies. My initial reaction was that TV serials are a down-market kind of thing, but I took it up. I realised that television was actually getting bigger than films. I started enjoying all my work- Yehi To Pyar Hai, Sukanya and Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin. My dad was okay to serials for two reasons, I guess. One, I had grown up and was able to look after myself. Two, the casting couch does not exist in the TV industry.


Are you sure that casting couch does not exist in the TV industry?

I am not signing on this. At least, I have not been a party to any. In the TV industry, it counts that you are the daughter of somebody who is known, but when it comes to the film industry, nobody gives it a damn.

Anyway, how did 'Sanjivani' happen?

I got many offers on TV, but most of them were very similar roles which required me to use buckets of glycerine only. My adrenalin had stopped flowing. Come to think of it, I was never doing it for money. My father's financial support has been there all along. The Sanjivani offer started the adrenalin to flow again. I loved the negative aspect in Dr. Simran's portrayal.
Weren't you sceptical that the audience might not accept you in Shilpa Kadam's place?

I was very sceptical, underline the word 'very'. It is difficult to register when you come in as a replacement. But do you know that after I got in, the TRPs of Sanjivani have shot up?


"I am a 'ghatan' at heart. Thank God that the negative character of Simran is not supposed to anything blasphemous!"


Do you get into the skin of the character?

Yes. I am a combo of spontaneity and method. When the scenes are light and fun-loving, I just am myself. I don't have to exert at all. I am a happy-go-lucky and friendly type in real life. I easily identify with the goody-goody stuff. When it comes to scenes, which demand that I vent anger or start crying, I adopt the method route. I retire with the lines into one corner of a room and start putting myself in the character's place. That takes some time, but I get it.
How do you do the difficult scenes?

Some scenes are 'really' difficult. Those who say that acting is an easy job are liars. I always do a rehearsal before the difficult scenes. What may be difficult for me, may not be difficult for my co-star. So he/she may not require a rehearsal, but then, most senior artistes do help their juniors. Things are relatively easy if I am doing a difficult scene with Gurdeep Kohli because she is a close friend of my age. I can easily ask her for a rehearsal before we actually enact it out. And even if we goof up the rehearsal, we smile and do it again.

But God help me when I am doing a difficult scene with Vikram Gokhale. A difficult scene becomes doubly difficult, then! He has such a towering and domineering personality. Still I don't compromise on going into a difficult scene without a rehearsal. I have to literally request Vikram Gokhale for a rehearsal but I do it.
You said that acting is not an easy job. Then why are so many people jumping into it?

It's just 15 seconds of fame for them! Do you think that they all last? Leave aside a growth in your career, even if you want to maintain your present status, you need to be focussed. We have so many guys and girls getting into television who are not bothered about the low output they deliver; the moment their shot is over, they are glued to their mobile.

Would you like to do the saas-bahu type serials?

Am I not doing a saas-bahu serial already in Sanjivani? Of late, my 'saas' is against me since I am expressing my disapproval of my husband's love for the other woman in no uncertain terms (smiles).

Would you like to do something sensational, say, a negative role that goes against our Indian culture?

I can't do it. I am a 'ghatan' at heart (laughs). Thank God that the negative character of Simran is not supposed to anything blasphemous!
You told me that you love'd' the character of Dr.Simran when you signed? Does that mean that you don't like it anymore?

(laughs). You caught me on the wrong foot, man! Well, of late, it's getting to me. That mad, jealous behaviour! I have become a hysterical vamp (laughs). Especially after the Holi scene where she says that her husband Rahul should spray colour only on her but Rahul gets intoxicated with 'bhaang' and sprays it all on the other woman, Juhi. I couldn't digest the fact that Simran does not say anything to Rahul but goes and spits fire on Juhi.
Do you think women get a fair deal on television?

Fair deal? Women are getting a far bigger chunk than men. In films, the hero is the be-all and end-all of a film. Except Aishwarya Rai, no Bollywood heroine is as popular as Tulsi/Parvati/Ramola/Pallavi. I know of many people who say 'Goodnight' to Tulsi before retiring for the four nights of the week when Kyunki... is telecast. How many Bollywood girls can boast of that? There is nothing left for a heroine in Bollywood. All that she has to is don under-sized outfits, smooch the hero and perform pelvic-n-pectoral gyrations.
Role models on television?

Only Shekhar Suman. After his debacle in films and the death of his son, he rose like a Phoenix from the Ashes. How many people can do that?
Does the fact that serials are shot at a hectic pace leave you with minimum scope for creative satisfaction?

Yes, serials offer little to no chance for retakes. There are tough deadlines too be met. The production house is answerable to the channels. But I guess, creative satisfaction is minimal in films too. You cool your heels for hours before your shot is called, and by then, you are completed disconnected!
Are you drained at the end of the day?

Not always. That's simply because I haven't taken up any other serial. I have been offered many negative roles like Simran of Sanjivani, but I refuse to be typecast. But please don't mistake me for being one of those who prefers creative satisfaction at the cost of commercial prospects.
That means you are doing something else too?

(smiles) I am also making commercials for New York Life. Actually, Ashwin Varma (Corporate Vice President of New York Life), my dad and I are partners in this venture. Every year, Varma comes down to India to make the commercials. I have also acted in one of those. I am mainly involved with the concept, dress-designing and production part. New York Life is a foreign based company which has various markets. Our company caters to the Indian market. These commercials promote Indian culture.

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