Actor Kitu Gidwani talks to Budhaditya Bhattacharya about her upcoming film “Ek Bura Aadmi”, the decline of Indian television serials and her continuing love for theatre
For a 2000s kid growing up on a diet of cable television and multiplex cinema, the name Kitu Gidwani might not ring too many bells. Indeed, small roles in Fashion, Dhobi Ghaat, Student of the Year and an Axe commercial apart, Kitu has been something of a recluse lately, and not entirely out of choice. “It’s just that one gets offered such little since directors run after 18 year olds and star kids,” she quips.
But the actor, whose career has always been marked by ability rather than availability, will soon be seen in the film Ek Bura Aadmi, featuring Arunoday Singh and directed by first-time filmmaker Ishraq Shah. “It’s a political thriller which has its base in reality. It’s based on U.P. politics, but could be a representation of politics in India. I play the role of the Chief Minister of U.P.,” she says, giving a fair idea of who her character has been modelled on, adding that she was attracted to this character “precisely because I have never done anything like this before.”
The actor, who has earlier worked with heavyweight art house filmmakers, is full of praise for Ishraq, who studied in Allahabad University and claims to have finished the film in less than a month. “Every step of the way, he knew exactly how a character would behave, what that person would say and what their motivation is. You tend to trust someone with that kind of authority,” says Kitu of the man who refers to her as “Kitu-ji”.
Despite the presence of films like Ketan Mehta’s Holi, Govind Nihalani’s Rukmavati Ki Haveli, Deepa Mehta’s Earth and an award-winning performance in Dance of the Wind among her credits, Kitu will probably always be known for her television roles. From her debut with Trishna in 1984 and Air Hostess a couple of years later to Swabhimaan and Junoon in the 1990s, Kitu was adept at playing the free spirited and ambitious woman during the heyday of Doordarshan. “The kind of variety you were getting on television in the ’70s and the ’80s, which was an intelligent alternative to bad Indian cinema, that’s gone,” Kitu says unsentimentally.
“It’s got partly to do with the taking over by corporates and for them, it’s always about money. They feel that Indian viewers want to see women with ghunghats, lehengas, big bindis and big eyes with tears in them. This is actually a lie, look at the kind of roles people have played in the past in Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Udaan, Junoon, Swabhimaan. So it’s a complete lie, but when money is the bottom line you can’t argue with it. All producers and directors are beholden to corporates,” she adds, vowing not to return to the medium in the foreseeable future.
She points to the direction of U.S. to demonstrate the state of television there, which, by virtue of its extended story arc, affords a new dimension to both actors and directors. “TV has gone past their movies, it’s quite unbelievable,” she says. Directors like Jane Campion, David Fincher, Martin Scorsese and actors like Kevin Spacey and Jeff Daniels have, in different degrees, embraced television. She is hopeful that a similar change can be brought to India.
The fallout of TVs decline in India, according to Kitu, has been the disappearance of the young, liberated woman from the small screen. “I think cinema has taken over a few of them. So you are getting a few films with women-oriented topics, but not as much as should be happening… The social topics that Shyam Benegal-ji ,Govind-ji and Ketan Mehta picked up, that is irreplaceable. I don’t think we can do it anymore; we don’t have that kind of political awareness. I don’t know who is going to take over that mantle.”
A veteran theatre actor, Kitu’s belief in the medium remains steady, as her search for “roles with an internal life” continues. “It gives you a graph, and allows you to invest your imagination in the character,” she says. Apart from featuring in a one-person play, Kitu has plans to direct a play in the future.