Living by her rules

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Living by her rules

Audacious: Surekha Sikri photo by Rocky Khanna

She had captured nation’s TV audience as the mother in Banegi Apni Baat (1994) and now once again as Dadisa in Balika Vadhu. There have been several other television serials and important films, and Surekha Sikri’s awards include two National awards (for Tamas and Mammo), but never before has she enjoyed the kind of audience base and fan following as she does now. With the strict disciplinarian and conservative matriarch act, Surekha as Dadisa has captured the viewers’ imagination. “In some ways I am like Dadisa,” she says. “I am a strict disciplinarian. I can be very tough.” With a sudden throaty laugh she adds “on myself!” 

It’s been a long journey for the girl from the hills of Uttar Pradesh, who spent her childhood in places like Almora and Nainital. After college, she joined the National School of Drama, New Delhi, in 1965. Graduating from NSD in 1968, she freelanced for a while, doing amateur theatre with existing groups in Delhi. A year later, she joined the NSD Repertory Company, which was the performance-oriented wing of NSD, holding ticketed performances. “Theatre did a lot for me as I worked with directors from all parts of India, and abroad, in several genres.” But there was eventually a point when she decided to move to Mumbai “for a change of scene, and also because the theatre scene in Delhi of the early 80s wasn’t my cup of tea any more.” 

Surekha admits that “most of my exposure has been via television” but she also has an enviable body of films to her credit. Kissa Kursi Ka (1978) was technically her first film but she calls the Prakash Jha directed Parinati (1989) her “first meaningful film.”

Apart from Jha, Surekha has worked with names like Saeed Mirza (Salim Landge Pe Mat Ro – 1989), Mani Kaul (Nazar – 1991), Shyam Benegal (Mammo – 1994, and more), Aparna Sen (Mr & Mrs Iyer – 2003) and Rituparno Ghosh (Raincoat – 2004). She also worked with Bernardo Bertolucci in Little Buddha (1993). Inspite of this body of work in films, Surekha does not consider TV a lesser medium. “Performance wise, I find television as satisfying as a film because I still do my best. Yes, it is frustrating sometimes when owing to various pressures, they don’t give me as much time as I’d like.” In comparison with theatre, the veteran actress finds “television and film more challenging, television more so as there’s so little time.”

Some of Surekha’s memorable theatre performances include playing Savitri in Adhe Adhure, being the stepmother in Tughlaq and mother in Sandhya Chaya. She received the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1989. While doing films, she has found that “each role comes with its own challenge.”  

Having worked with many actors and directors, Surekha is particularly appreciative of her co-actor from Mr & Mrs Iyer, Konkona Sen Sharma, and the current Balika Vadhu director Pradeep Yadav. She loves Konkona’s eye for detail and talks of Pradeep as “a director with a lot of empathy for characters.”

Like a true actor, Surekha remains ever hungry for good roles, desiring “interesting roles for female protagonists of my age group.” Not that she has a lot of free time, shooting as she is presently for 15-20 days a month. And how does she decide on a role? “I mostly go by instinct,” she says. Surekha has a unique way of unwinding after a tough day at work — introspecting on “the things done properly, and those that were not done properly” – and does a bit of stocktaking. Most of the soul-searching happens in the presence of her guru, Sai Baba.  

The actress with a strong face and twinkling eyes describes herself as “someone who tries to be fair, tries not to go down the wrong path ever. If it happens, I try to purify myself.”

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