TV producers are casting girls as young as 16-17 years to play the lead roles in their serials
Every second show on the tube nowadays has a new face and the success/failure of the show rests majorly on the ability of the new actress to carry it off on her shoulders. Tina Dutta (Iccha of Uttaran) started two years ago when she was 19. Avika Gor (Roli of Sasural Simar Ka) is 16 and still in school.
Mitali Nag who plays the title role in Afsar Bitiya is not yet 20 and Priyal Gor who plays Moniya in Dekha Ek Khwab is 17. Even if you go a little older, the age-bracket doesn't go further than 23 to 24 years. Deepika Samson (Simar of Sasural Simar Ka) and Pratyusha Banerjee (Anandi of Balika Vadhu) are fitting examples of these.
In the forefront
So why is television casting youngsters in lead roles nowadays?
Producer-director Rajan Shahi, who introduced Sara Khan and Parull Chauhan (Bidaai) and Hina Khan (Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai) says, "When the girls are young and fresh in the industry, there's a certain innocence and vulnerability that brings the sparkle to a story. A couple of shows later, it's difficult to replicate it."
Deepika Samson (Simar of Sasural Simar Ka)
He adds, "The kids of today, especially girls, are smart, confident and willing to work hard."
This trend is upsetting the slightly older actresses who end up doing mother, sister or bhabhi roles. "It's a Catch-22 situation," explains Shahi.
"From an unknown face, the girl becomes a star overnight. Once the show ends, breaking from that image becomes difficult and she is back to auditioning for other shows. Some get lucky and those who don't are forced to move on to mature roles.
Priyal Gor (Moniya of Dekha Ek Khwab)
Probably, that's the reason you will see leading heroines who are 16-17 while their mothers are not more than 25 and the grandmother is barely 40." Simply put, the career span as a leading lady is short term as long as the show is on air.
Explains Sukesh Motwani, programming head of an entertainment channel, "At our awards function in Macau, the NRIs wanted to meet Shah Rukh Khan. But there was also a rush to meet Indira of Hitler Didi and Krishna of Afsar Bitiya. They did not know their real names but were quite familiar with their screen names."
He adds, "Younger girls are holding the interest of the audience because the viewers recognise them by their first or second serials.
Avika Gor (Roli of Sasural Simar Ka)
But I would still like to believe that casting is not done looking at an actress' age. It's more a case of appropriate casting be it Ankita Lokhande in Pavitra Rishta or Mitali Nag in Afsar Bitiya. These girls clicked irrespective of their age."
Ekta Kapoor has introduced many new faces on the small screen from Prachi Desai (who later graduated to films) to Kirti Nagpure (who is doing a course in interior decorating). She says, "I don't follow trends. In today's scenario, it would have been easier for me to cast a 16-year-old and have a rural backdrop.
But I made a mature love story, Bade Acche Lagte Hain, casting an older woman and now I am making Kya Hua Tera Wada which deals with post-marriage romance. I pursued Mona Singh for four months for Kya Hua... till she relented.
Pratyusha Banerjee (Anandi of Balika Vadhu)
That's because I wanted a girl who looked the character of the 28-year-old who is comfortable in her marriage but still seeking the romance in it. At the end of the day it's the demand of the story that is the deciding factor."
There may be shows like Parvarish (Shweta Tiwari, Rupali Ganguly) and Bade Acche Lagte Hain (Ram Kapoor, Sakshi Tanwar) with a mature star cast, but these are relatively few in comparison to the onslaught of new faces with every new show.
But according to Shahi, it's not as rosy as it sounds. "It's a case of too much too soon. The kind of success, fame and money that these girls achieve at such an early age is astounding. Their lifestyle takes a dramatic turnaround especially for those who are from small towns.
Since they are at a tender age, it can affect their stability. I have seen many of them going haywire, not being able to handle the sudden spurt in fame and monetary status. Sad, but true."