In the 1994 movie by the same name, Forrest Gump compares life to a box of chocolates. “Life is like a boxof chocolates, he says, “you never know what you are going to get.” In these seemingly simple words, Gump has probably given the most comprehensive definition of life ever . For what is life but an assortment of different flavors, thrown in randomly as surprises?
Mouni Roy is a living embodiment of Gump’s philosophy. A veritable destiny’s child, she believes in going wherever life takes her. And Boy, has life taken her places! Her career till date has been remarkably prolific ( fiction, reality, dance shows, anchoring). With such a potpourri of profiles in her kitty ,accompanied with looks to kill for, I reckon you’ve got to be curious about the person behind the diva!
So in my first ever cover story, I bring you a candid conversation with this extremely talented performer. For those who have been living under a rock, Mouni Roy, who started her career with the role of Krishna Tulsi in the famous soap Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, back in 2007, and has received wide acclaim for her portrayal of Sati in the popular series Devon Ke Dev Mahadev on Life Ok, is counted among one of the most glamorous TV personalities of today.
The first thing you notice about her when you meet her is her uninhibited aura. Her openness, affable nature and ability to converse intelligently on every topic under the sky is striking. Surprisingly,she comes across not just as a pretty face but a confident woman with a grounded but impressive personality.
As I am a firm believer of the theory -“In every adult there dwells the child that was, and in every child there lies the adult that will be.”, I begin by delving into her growing years, curious about her childhood back in the remote Bengali town of Cooch Behar.
Me: How would you describe your childhood? Who was your influence through your growing years? Will you go back and change something if you were given a chance?
Mouni: My childhood was like a wonderland. Childhood, University in Delhi and Jamia , and now Mumbai: they all seem like different lifetimes now. Coming back to my childhood, oh! I had the most loving family. I was adored by parents, teachers and relatives. Did well in both studies and extracurricular activities. Since I was the only girl child on both sides of the family for 15 years,I never knew sorrow while growing up. But I was never spoiled or pampered in my house. My rewards of studying, finishing homework or helping in household chores were great: Getting to play with friends for a while, Mom cooking my favorite dishes, being allowed to put Maa’s lipstick, to walk in her chappals or Baba piggy backing me in the park. Rule of the house was whatever you cried for you wouldn’t be allowed to have that and I understand the meaning/value of that today.
As long as I studied properly I got to do everything I loved. Dancing ,singing ,sketching ,reading story books etc. They made sure that my energies were channelized properly even if it was anger. So as a child I never even needed a best friend because whenever I had spare time I was busy doing pottery or making puppets with kaaku (uncle) in the Murti Making shop opposite my father’s office. (I make superb muppets and know Bunrakoo, Japanese puppetry). It was quite the glass palace which was soon to be shattered with the harsh realities of life as I reached Delhi for further studies.
My influence I guess is the core belief system and the functioning of my household as it made me the person that I am today, good or bad.
And no, I would not change a single thing about my childhood. If given an opportunity I would relive it. Who doesn’t like to wake up every morning in a breezy house listening to the ‘taanpura‘ and nee’ saa’ re’ ma’ ga’ re’ ma’ pa’ (Deshraag)?
Me: But how does a woman from a small laid back town, who wakes up every morning listening to the taanpura, turns into one of the most glamorous TV personalities of the current times? That is bound to be an interesting story!
Mouni: My story is not as exciting as your question. It is fate. I think I was destined to come to Mumbai; the city where I didn’t know a soul when I arrived first and now I have my whole life here. This is after I had just finished my graduation in English Honors and was in my first year M.A in Mass Communication Jamiya Milia (I wear my education like a badge). One fine Sunday, coming back from the community center someone from Balaji Productions (didn’t know then) tapped my shoulder and asked me if I wanted to audition for something they were casting for. It was very close to our University Campus so we decided to go , not knowing these auditions were for Kyunki.. I still remember auditioning for the girl in the negative role as the dialogues for the positive girl were very melodramatic. So that was that and then just before my final exams they called to say I was shortlisted and they needed to do a final look test. I remember declining it first when I heard it was a part in Kyunki,.. for no other reason but out of sheer ignorance about television then. You know when you are in college you’re so busy with your academics and extra curricular activities that whatever free time you manage you hang out with friends and not watch TV, especially in a hostel or a P.G. But then I was explained everything to my satisfaction and all this turned very exciting for me. Next step was convincing parents which just didn’t happen till they didn’t have any choice but to see me on T.V. So with a brooding father at home and after finishing my last paper I took off for Haridwar to shoot my first schedule ever for Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi as Krishna Tulsi…
Me: That sounds like a true fairy tale alright! A shoulder tap and lo! You are on T.V. And Kyunki, being the most popular daily soap of that era, must have proved to be a very lucky start. Though during my research, I noticed that since Kyunki, you have experimented widely with all kinds of genres instead of sticking to family dramas : thriller, mythology, reality TV,dance shows , anchoring etc. That must have given you a lot of exposure. Out of all these, what has been your preferred genre and what do you consider your best performance till date?
Mouni: I honestly do not have a favorite genre. As long as I am doing something different, getting to do what I love, getting to work, I am happy. I have my favorite scenes from playing Sati, Meera and K.T.
Me:Well as anyone who follows the television industry will know, acting is not the only art where your forté lies. You seem to be a very artistically inclined person. Your dance shows are widely loved. One of the most acclaimed sequences of DKDM, has you dancing exquisitely as Sati to express your pining love for Mahadev. That’s not all. You sing, paint and have quite a penchant for designing.I wonder how much of it is inherited? And in your opinion, how important is professional training in the field of performance Arts?
Mouni: Baba played very good tabla, Maa sings very well. Mejhdiaani (maasi) plays amazing Indian guitar. Mamaji is a superb tabalchi too. And my daadu ( grandfather); who was a landlord; used to leave everything to go do jaatra'(street theatre) . So yes I do get the taal and lay from them but Riyaaz and Abhyaas is very important to improve any form of art. I have only taken formal training for dancing and painting. Singing needed too much Riyaaz early morning so gave it up as soon as I could. Yes I do believe professional training gives you the right guidance to sharpen your talent.
Me: Sati, Meera and K.T: The 3 major fictional characters that you have played, have all been unique in terms of their strength of character. KT is a rural woman who does not get intimidated by money or city life. Sati , despite being a mytho- character, is a strong woman, almost feminist in her attitude. Meera in Junoon is another woman who makes bold choices in life. Since TV is generally assailed by female protagonists busy handling kitchen politics, the choice of roles strike me as different. Have they been deliberate? What do you look for in a script before saying yes?
Mouni: Nothing in my life has been deliberate. In fact if I plan something it never happens. So now I conveniently follow the “going with the flow” theory. I am a true believer of destiny and free will, so whichever character has been allowed for me to play, I have played and executed it in the available diameter.
Me: In that case, I think you must be one of destiny’s favorites as all these characters have been loved widely for being different from the typical roles women are seen playing on Indian TV, which brings me to my next question: Would you say Television is a woman oriented industry? I know most of the dramas have a woman in a lead role, but do you think these portrayals are skewed perception of a what a woman should be rather than what a woman is?
Mouni: No, I don’t think TV is women –oriented. I do see that there are many woman centric stories. I also think it’s completely audience/consumer driven. At given times, different researches are done, pilots are shot, then sent for research again. The stories that are praised/loved most are worked upon. Yes sometimes, they tend to become a routine or similar formula stories but then every industry has its shortcomings I guess.
Me: Indeed. Well, Television might showcase more women oriented stories on-screen but is it a woman friendly industry in general? How are women treated behind the scenes? Do they have the same weight age as male actors, If not more?
Mouni: Women , as far as I am concerned, are treated fabulously, even more than men are. You see, we tend to get tired faster, long hours are more grueling and sickening for our immune systems, blame the anatomy for that. But most importantly, man or woman, one’s honor is in one’s own hand. You absolutely cannot control what words come out of the person you are working with or how they behave with you,but you can check yourself, you can maintain dignity in your language or not give anyone a chance to misbehave or be disrespectful towards you. So my goal is never to get pampered or get attention but to be treated right and spoken nicely to. So I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone I have ever worked with for treating me with respect. Thank you.
Me:Well as they say ,respect is not given, it’s earned and you have a point when you say one’s honor is in your own hands. But how does one handle judgments from strangers ? When you are a public personality, people tend to have opinions about you even when they don’t know you personally.Television audience , specially, has a reputation of falling in love with the image you project on-screen and then have trouble accepting your real personality off-screen. Today, the fans and the “haters” have turned very vocal on major social networking sites regarding celebrities. Have you been subjected to any such situation and how do you address that?
Mouni: I think most people know we are not the characters we portray on-screen. Yeah some extreme fans do think we are the characters ourselves and that’s okay till its positive and doesn’t intervene in one’s personal domain. I mean India is a democracy and everyone has the right to their opinion. What I do find problematic is when one is allowed that opinion ,it doesn’t need to be crass or vulgar . It is okay if you don’t like a particular character or despise the person playing it but I don’t understand the need to use bad language. But honestly even that is okay I guess . I believe only one thing in life.. I only meet people/ do things that makes me happy other than that I cannot care less. But yes, at times you do feel bad reading rowdy vulgar comments about yourself on social networking sites. We are all human beings after all ; but then again it does not matter as it is coming from people who do not add or subtract anything in your life. Love the binary oppositions of life.
Me: Has the growing fame affected your privacy as a person?, How do you handle attention on her personal life?
Mouni: I don’t handle any attention on my personal life. My personal life is nobody’s business and I shall maintain that always. I refuse to let my life be a reality show. Amusing enough though everyone is entitled to their own stories and opinions. Love reading versions of myself from people and media; either of whom do not have a clue about a minute of my life..
Me: But you maintain a very outgoing profile as compared to the other TV actresses and don’t seem to hide behind the characters you play on-screen. In an image orientated industry, is that a difficult thing? To be yourself?
Mouni: Why should I hide behind any image . The most important thing in this whole wide world is to be a good human being first. If you are giving and have a good heart, life eases itself out positively. I would also like to believe I have a thinking mind and think having a personality is much more important than being pretty. And if after all this you are gifted with decent looks its like an icing on the cake. So hiding behind even the most fascinating character isn’t me. Modesty is never my middle name. (laughs).
Me: Finally, I think my interview would not be complete if I don’t ask the current style icon on TV about her opinion on style and fashion. How do you define Style? Fashion?
Mouni: Style to me is and always will be originality. Fashion for me is experimenting. It’s knowing your body type really well and then play with cuts, color, styles, era. I never follow trends blindly but also understand and go with what suits me. Funny but I have realized even fashion moves in circular motion; what becomes outdated comes back again with certain amount of tweaking. Nevertheless as far as fashion goods are concerned I am evolving everyday.
Me: On an ending note, what would you like to say to your fans and viewers in general?
Mouni: Only want to take this opportunity to say thank you and say that I love you. If you didn’t watch me, to reach what ends would I act?. If you all didn’t appreciate me it will all be less meaningful. . So thank you so much for adding some more meaning to my smiles.
Please don’t forget to check out “Rapid Fire with Mouni Roy” here: http://dramasanddreams.com/2013/08/24/rapid-fire-with-mouni-roy/