Are Indian television's leading ladies too young to be on screen?
The adage ‘Catch them young and watch them grow,’ — seems to be true of Indian television shows. With new faces being roped in by producers for their soaps, it appears that the younger they are, the better.
Instead of being at school in uniforms, they are donning garish costumes, applying greasepaint and facing the camera as part of their daily routine. And all with parental support. As 14-year-old Mahima Makwana (Rachana of Sapne Suhane Ladakpan ke) states emphatically, “My mom was interested in acting, but couldn’t pursue her dreams because of family restrictions. So, she was keen that I make it big here. I auditioned for a lot of shows and finally I landed this role.”
Mahima Makwana, 14, stars in 'Sapne Suhane Ladakpan ke'
Mahima is studying in the ninth grade. She admits that she auditioned for several ad-films and cameos in shows before finally bagging the lead role in Sapne…. “I was just 12 when I started doing this show. I was only interested in studies, but my mom thought I could do better with a career in acting too. Without her help and support, I wouldn’t be here today. Though people advised me to grow up a little before taking up the lead role, it was too good an opportunity to let go of,” she says. Incidentally, Mahima is projected as an 18-year-old in the show.
Neha Baggi, who acts in 'Bani-Ishq Da Kalma', started her first show at the age of 16
The ‘young leads’ syndrome is not exactly a new one. Producer-director Rajan Shahi has launched many newcomers — from 17-year-old Sara Khan (Bidaai), 18-year-old Parul Chauhan (Bidaai), 18-year-old Hina Khan (Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai) to his latest discovey16-year-old Kanchi Singh (Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya), among others.
Shahi explains, “A few years ago, the conventional leads were mature girls in the age bracket of 23-24. But with time, the scenario changed from the woman element to the girl element. Channels began insisting on fresh faces because most shows are character-centric and the audience needs to find an immediate connect with them. So, it is preferable if the girl is completely new and comes with no image from her previous show.”
“Also, many stories these days are based on a young girl’s journey, so fresh faces are in demand,” adds Shahi.
Aspirants who are ready to fill the growing need are also not far behind. Shahi adds, “Today’s youngsters are aware of what they want and equip themselves accordingly.
Technology has helped them groom themselves faster, be more accessible and know how to go about things faster. I am surprised when I meet 17-year-olds who know want they want from life. They don’t wait to turn 21 or 22 to go after their dreams or turn 35-40 to become responsible in life.”
He adds further, “Television has earned a certain respectability owing to its disciplined functioning. It is considered a safe place by people to send their daughters to work in. Probably, that’s the reason we are seeing parents encourage them just like they would do for a vocation, like swimming or playing music.”
Prashant Bhatt, weekday programming head, Colors, seconds that. “We are catering to young aspirations. With surging technology and advent of social networking sites, the world has become small. Young boys and girls have an easier access to things that make them dream big at a young age. I remember being a bumbling idiot when I was 21. But today, kids are looking at careers like web designing which were unheard of a few years ago. Their confidence and aspirations are relatable and they are role models to society which is what we are recreating on screen,” he says.
Bhatt feels that their potential is gauged during the auditions itself. “Whether they can live up to our expectations or not is the foremost criterion. Before an actor is entrusted with the responsibility of being the face of our show, she is given grooming sessions.”
“This includes physical grooming to suit the character and a six-seven month acting workshop. What’s their shelf life considering that two to three shows later, she is relegated to sister-in-law and mother roles?” asks Bhatt.
Bhatt adds, “With an exciting launch pad, an actress can achieve instant stardom as she is in everyone’s homes courtesy her show. But the flip side is that she can get stuck in that image. The trick is to play the cards well and break away from the mould. Like Sakshi Tanwar, who successfully broke away from the Parvati (Kahani Ghar Ghar ki) mould, and slipped into Priya’s role (Bade Acche Lagte Hai) with ease,” he adds.
According to Bhatt, playing the cards well implies professionalism and hard work. “That keeps them in everyone’s good books. Real talent always survives,” he said.
Not a troublemaker
Neha Baggi, who plays Rajji in Bani-Ishq Da Kalma, echoed his opinion. She started her first show at 16. She says, “Young or old, an artiste finds favour with makers and channels if her conduct is good. Nobody wants to work with a troublesome actor.”
She is very candid when it comes to the trend of fresh faces. “A newcomer is eager to learn, can be moulded according to the requirements of the producer/channel and fits easily in their budget. So it’s a win-win situation for both.”
Though the young and restless are the preferred age-bracket, what is worrying is the instant stardom that can work against them.
Shahi confirms the same. “Aspirants, especially from smaller towns, come with stars in their eyes. When their shows click, they are suddenly dining in the best restaurants, being driven in expensive cars and have fan clubs to boast of. It can work against them and they become wayward.”
“I have witnessed cases where this instant stardom coupled with the pressure of handling the erratic schedules, loneliness in the city and no family support for those coming from small towns is too much for the immature actors to handle,” adds Shahi. “After their show ends, many girls cannot handle if no other work is coming their way.”
“The vagaries of this profession can cause several problems,” continues Shahi. “That’s why I like to conduct workshops for my actors and try to understand their support systems, which play a vital role in keeping them stable through these ups and downs. But finally, it is up to each individual how well they handle their highs and lows,” he concludes.
Digangana Suryavashi (16) — Veera
Avika Gor (15)— Sasural Simar Ka
Shivshakti Sachdev (19) — Sabki Laadli Bebo
Pratyusha Bannerjee (18) — Balika Vadhu
Veebha Anand (17) — Balika Vadhu