Of looking beyond

Of looking beyond


While the two big daddies of Indian television today — Colors and STAR fight it out amongst themselves with their plethora of reality shows and serials, Zee seems to have struck gold with a social cause-turned-concept-turned-serial. Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo — Zee’s attempt at making people aware of how girl child selling still goes on in our country and how bad it is — is the talk of the town and sending TRP charts soaring northwards. Produced by Swastik Pictures (a creative production company led by Siddharth Tewary and Vikas Seth), the show has been making waves in the small screen.
And a large share of the credit goes to Ratan Rajput, the young actress who is playing Lali — the girl child around whom the entire story revolves.

Laali is a 17-year-old girl who comes from a low caste background. They are rat killers by profession and help the zamindars protect their land and homes from infestation. The father scrapes together a small income and the girl does odd jobs around the village to support him. And like any other girl her age, she also dreams of a happy life after her marriage to a man who loves her.

For Ratan, the contrast with her first serial is pretty stark. “In my first serial Radha Ki Beityaan Kuchh Kar Dikahayegi, I played the role of a modern and glamourous urban girl, while here it is that of a rural girl who even speaks with a heavy accent,” says the actress. How did she manage to bag the prized role in Agle Janam...? “While we were wrapping up my first show, I got a call from the production company informing me of the audition going on for the role of Lali and also enquiring whether I would be interested or not. Since I did not have any other offer at that time, I decided to give it a try,” remembers Ratan. As luck would have it, Siddharth Tewary, the partner of Swastik Pictures and also a creative director, selected Ratan immediately.

That is when the hard work started for Ratan. She had to portray a girl who comes from a family badly hit by poverty. “We had our first shooting schedules in a place called Wai and the director Rajesh Ramsingh would have nothing but the authentic look, I had to move around in the same clothes for seven days and walk without slippers. Believe it or not, after the schedule was over I had blisters in my feet and used to get that feeling of stinking all the time,” remembers the actress whose father is a retired civil servant.
But even this was not good enough. “Every time I gave a shot, I used to rush to my director and ask him whether it was good or not. While he encouraged me a lot he also used to tell me that the ‘hunger’ in my eyes was missing. And that element was vital in portraying Lali’s character,” remembers Ratan.

What followed was something that was completely unexpected. Ratan was asked to change her diet and survive on bhakri and chawli on the sets. She was even told to be off regular food while working. “Though I was sceptical initially, it worked wonders for me. The very sight of any other food make me crazy and I would feel hungry throughout the day,” says Ratan. “But I guess this brought about a lot of change in my acting and the director and producers were very happy after this,” says the actress.

Ratan feels that acting in this serial has done a lot of good on the personal front as well. “Earlier I used to be very conscious about beggars touching me and asking for food or money. But after working in this show I have realised what hunger can do to a human being. I definitely look at the poor and needy very differently now,” confesses Ratan who is now working with Kiran Bedi to remove girl-selling in India. “We have recently raised funds for her NGO and participated in some campaigns. I met Kiran Bedi few days back and it felt really nice to know that she likes my performance in the serial,” says Ratan.
Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo has recently received a boost with the entry of a number of experienced actors in new characters — Sudesh Berry, Sushmita Mukherjee and Roopa Ganguly. 

While the show is doing good in terms of TRP and Ratan is also happy, will it send the right message to the right audience? Ratan feels it will. And one sincerely hopes it does. But going by the recent debacle in voter turnout in Mumbai, despite high-profile campaigns, one really wonders how much of a social message can be passed on through forms of entertainment. Or may be while urbanites ignore such messages the moment it goes off air, in the rural areas it lingers on as a thought to be acted upon.

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