They say talent comes in surprise packages.They are right. Sriti Jha, one of the most well known faces of Indian TV (and what a beautiful face that is!) is a living example. You would expect someone who has seven years of high -quality work to speak for her, to be a little intimidating in person but surprisingly Sriti turns out to be the proverbial “girl next door” who disarms you instantly with her simplicity. I am impressed at her ability to stay grounded , given that in her long illustrious career she has given the word “variety” a new meaning: A high school drummer, a princess, a split personality , a blind woman, an abused wife and now a rural mother: Sriti Jha has literally done it all.
Terming her profession as a gift from God, the pretty actress gives almost all credit for what she is today, to the directors and writers she has worked with. Her passion for her work is striking, her respect for people who work behind the scenes is touching, and her knowledge of literature and philosophy is stunning. This kind of talent commands automatic respect, but the elan and simplicity she carries her success with, increases it manifold.
Below I bring you a glimpse of the woman behind the actress through an up close and personal conversation.
SJ: Chance, that turned into Choice. Back in Delhi, at school, I actually wanted to join a dance group as my extra curricular activity, but since the dance teacher was indisposed around that time, I had to pick theater instead. That’s how I started doing street plays and gradually grew fond of acting. I pursued it even in college as a part of the English Dramatic Society . Even then, to pursue it professionally was never the plan. It just happened to me. The audition for my first show Dhoom Machaao Dhoom took place in Delhi. So, I actually arrived in Mumbai with a job, which is an extremely rare thing to happen in this industry. That’s why I maintain that my profession is God’s gift to me. I value it above anything else and try to be honest at what I do everyday.
D&D: Dhoom MachaaoDhoom was the first Indian Daily for Disney. It was more on the lines of the teenage shows set in american high schools. Quite an unconventional start. How do you feel when you look back at DMD?
SJ: It’s a mixture of feelings: A certain amount of fondness along with a certain amount of embarrassment too! Back then, I didn’t know what to do. Acting in front of a camera is entirely different from acting in a street play or acting on stage. On top of it,the theater I did was never professional. So It was a whole new world.The fondness comes from the realization that doing that show was like attending a school. As it was a youth show, All actors were young and very new. We were being taught something new every day. It was a brilliant platform to learn and I value it highly. I am glad I started with Dhoom Machao Dhoom.
D&D: And how does an actor who starts with playing a high school drummer goes on to play a Jahnvee ,a Ganga, or other women with rich psychological layers..
I have been very fortunate with all the shows I have done.The people I have worked with have always had faith in me. I believe we actors can’t do much if we are not backed with good content. Luck has been on my side in that aspect. The roles I have played have more to do with how they are conceived rather than me. I have no qualms in accepting that I have become the actor that I am today , is because of my writers and directors.It is kind of sad that actors get almost all credit and adulation for a popular role. If I get a bad show tomorrow, I can do nothing with it. It is only because of the stuff a writer writes for me to present, that people get to appreciate the work that I do…
SJ: Yes. There have been changes. People have been trying to push the boundaries, if not break them. For example, now we have female protagonists who work for a living. Four years ago, I imagine this kind of a premise was rare: The leads were always housewives dealing with domestic problems. Now I see roles being written, where women are financially independent and marriage for them is more of a transition than a goal. Working women have become part of Indian television –and that’s an immense progress.The visuals have gone through a tremendous evolution. The VFX used for contemporary shows are mind blowing.Youth shows are being made and well received.
Mythology has come back in such a big way- I will shamelessly give all credit for it to Devon Ke Dev Mahadev. I am huge fan. I think it’s a great thing to happen to TV, because shows like Mahadev and Buddha have so much to teach about life. There is so much philosophy and literature involved. The presentation is so innovative that young people are watching them as much as anyone. Definitely one of the most progressive things to have happened to TV.And Mohit Raina is brilliant. I feel like I would want to touch his feet if I see him. He is Mahadev!
D&D: So would you be open to playing mythological characters in future? Popular opinion is that these roles carry the risk of being slotted….
SJ: I have never said no to anything(laughs). I really don’t know what clicks for me. I doubt if any actor can tell you for definite that this is the role they would or would not do. But as far as the risk of being slotted is concerned, I wouldn’t think that holds true anymore. This new era of mythology on TV, (thank you Mahadev!) is very contemporary in many ways. The presentation is very progressive with a lot of scope for variety. For example, Mahadev (I can only exemplify that as I follow it very religiously) has so many shades. It’s not just about playing a God with one expression on your face. He has so many layers. So that definitely gives me a confidence that getting typecast or slotted is not much of a concern anymore.
D&D: One of your most talked about roles is of Jahnvee/Sia in Saubhagyavati Bhava. You played a victim of cruel domestic abuse. It is a very sensitive issue. Did it affect you at a personal level?
SJ: It did affect me. Before playing this role, when I heard such stories , I did feel bad but failed to really connect. But when I started playing Jahnvee, the full impact of this social evil called domestic violence hit me. That’s when this disturbing question started haunting me: If you cannot feel safe at your own home, where can you? Isn’t it the worst sort of situation to be in? The worst part about this particular issue is when people tend to dismiss it as a personal problem. It’s not. Domestic violence is a social issue and it should be dealt with socially. It’s the most horrible thing to happen to any human being. When you are disrespected physically and emotionally at your own home, it is bound to kill you from within.
D&D: This show faced some criticism for showing violence too graphically. Some were of the view that SB was thriving on sadism and voyeurism..
SJ: Our effort was never to advertise violence but we had to show a certain amount of it to keep it authentic.. The audience had to feel a little of the horror to really appreciate the moment when Sia finally takes a stand and starts the journey towards her recovery.But that was not supposed to be the USP of the show. The title of the show-” Saubhagyvati Bhava” with a question mark- says it all. It puts a question mark on the entire concept of marrying “off” a girl. That concept is flawed: Why do families think their responsibility as parents are done and over with as soon as they get their daughters married? As Jahnvee ‘s mother outlines later in the series, a daughter’s fortune is not in marriage but in her freedom of choice.The focus of the show was more on the process of recovery: That abysmal journey from the point of believing “there is no way out” to actually finding a way out and I would like to believe people responded to it because of that.
SJ: Well, if that is the case, I am not complaining (laughs). No, I think the present scenario works on a fifty- fifty balance. Even when the stories are women oriented, both the protagonists are important– Ganga, my character in Balika Vadhu is a character entwined in Jagya’s story. In fact It is more of Jagyas story than mine. Madhubala is a series which revolves as much around R.K. as Madhubala. Quobool Hai is another show which gives both the protagonists same weightage. Maybe some years ago, you could say TV was mainly about women but I think it’s changed to a more balanced equation now.
D&D: Your career has been remarkable in terms of variety. The characters you have played are all very different from each other. What kind of a relationship do you share with them? Do you carry them back home with you?
SJ: I think the relationship between an actor and the character is symbiotic. These characters grow as much on you, as much you grow while playing them. It is almost an organic process. I am not really a method actor and I do think of my characters even when I am not working, but most of the time the thought process is objective. But sometimes for a particular character, to try to make it as authentic as possible I try living at home. For example , to give Sudha in “Jyoti”, that sleepless husk in her voice and the redness in the eyes, I would try to stay awake at nights. So I don’t think an actor can plan to be a method actor or a “switch on -switch off” actor. It changes according to circumstances.
D&D: Could you pick out one role or a person who has been specially instrumental to your learning?
SJ: I think I changed as an actor after I did “Jyoti”. I started taking my work more seriously and made it a point to read more, specially about the craft of story telling , and watch more films. My director Siddharth Sen Gupta and Arvind Babbal, my director in Jiya Jale , are the two people who are mainly behind me being the person I am today, professionally and artistically.
D&D: How was it playing a blind woman in Rakta Sambandh? That is another one of your roles which surprises me by its authenticity. Did you do a lot of research or prepare differently? I imagine playing blind must not be easy!
SJ: Thank you but till date, I feel dissatisfied with myself for not doing that better. It is very difficult to look through things, as you have to keep your eyes open and not see things! Although I tried my best, it didn’t turn out to be as authentic as I would have wanted it to be. I went to a blind school in Worli but that ended up making me feel more guilty. People who have done it perfectly are obviously great : Al Pacino in The Scent of a Woman and Naseeruddin Shah in Sparsh are bloody brilliant. When I see them I really feel I couldn’t do justice to my role. But it was a brilliantly written show and one of the most special roles of my life after Sudha.
SJ: I like the fact that she is a very strong woman. As for challenges, it is the first time that I am playing a rural woman. It is also the first time that I am playing a mother, so that is a new emotion to portray. It has grown on me with time : It is a very special aspect of Ganga which she has transferred to me: She keeps her child above everything. The only goal of her life is to give Manu a better life. This aspect of selfless love, which is also the source of all her strength, is what makes Ganga very special to me and makes her a very fulfilling character to play.
D&D: Ganga and Siya both are women coping with abuse. What if a third role comes along with a similar background?
SJ: Well, I would ideally want to do something different but again a lot depends on the way the role is written. For example Ganga is fundamentally different from Siya, even though they are both characters coping with abuse. So for me, it is more about the way a character is written.
D&D: So what does Sriti Jha do when she is not acting?
SJ: She is watching other people act. I watch a lot of Indian television and I love movies.I also read when I am free and not to forget I sleep!
D&D: What’s your favorite movie?
SJ: That is a very tough question. It’s a tough choice between Pyaasa and Kaagaz ke Phool…And all of SatyaJit Ray flims..and all of Chaplin movies.. I love them all.. How can I not name any of them! I love movies!
D&D: Any aspiration to act in movies in future?
SJ: Well, It’s a new thing to learn and of course I would like to. But TV is always going to be my priority. I would like to believe that. All that I have today is because of the television Industry. The fact that you are interviewing me today or that I have an identity is because of TV. I consider my job literally a gift from God, it was given to me on a platter. So I would like to remain grateful to God and give 100 percent to my work.
D&D: Who is your favorite actor ? Someone you aspire to be like?
SJ: I can never be like her and calling her my favorite actor is an under statement. Waheeda Rehman, is my goddess, my inspiration and my Saraswati. I absolutely worship her from the core of my heart.
D&D: What would you like to say to your viewers and your fans?
SJ: Watch me when I do a good job, but please also realize that it depends on a lot of hard work by the people behind the scenes. When a show is criticized , the criticism extends to writers and directors, but all the adulation is limited to actors. It should be both ways. A lot of what I do on-screen has to do with the content and the way it is presented. And thank you so much for all the love that you give me. I am very grateful to you all. The only way I can give back is by being honest with my work which has always been my aim and I will continue to do the best I can.
Photo Credit: Sriti Jha
Note: Please don’t forget to read “Rapid Fire with Sriti Jha” – http://dramasanddreams.com/2013/10/29/rapid-fire-with-sriti-jha/