Smriti Irani on a rewind mode
“Delhi gave me the roots so that I could have the wings to fly,” says Smriti Irani, wistfully looking through the window of her plush hotel room. Perhaps looking at her meteoric rise from an inconsequential existence in Munirka to the country’s most sought after bahu and a rising politician. She is supposed to get into the look of her upcoming serial Maniben.com. As the make-up man puts layers on her face, Smriti clears the coatings of an eventful life. “We used to live on the first floor of a tabela in Munirka. My father came from a zamindar family but somehow lost it all. He used to run a rickety shop near the Dhaula Kuan bus stand before the flyover came into place and my mother would contribute by selling spices door-to-door. He turned his fortunes around by sheer hard work through courier business. He taught me honesty is the best policy but didn’t want me to face hardships.” But genes begin to show their effect early. “I started earning after 10th standard right here at Janpath. I used to get Rs.200 for promoting a beauty product perhaps called Naturine. My idea was to work during the day and study through correspondence. I don’t have any interesting gossip to share about school days. At the most I would go to Greenways for papdi chaat or a meal at TPO.” Smriti comes from a conservative family where girls are supposed to get married early. “The roka ceremony would happen after 12th exams and by second year of graduation you are married. The rest of education could be completed at the in-laws’ place. I didn’t want to go through this rigmarole.” She told her parents that she wants to explore life. “I told them girls live half of their life under the instructions of their parents and the rest under the command of husband. Hum adheen rehte hai.... I wanted to make the most of the in-between period.”
Wannabe Miss India!
Once interested in clearing the UPSC examination, Smriti one day decided to give the Miss India contest a try. “By chance I got a call. My parents were furious, as at that time modelling was not meant for well-read. I told them it will be a test of the sanskars they have given me.” So she always used to speak like that? “Well, even Arun Jaitley has said that I should have been a lawyer.” She couldn’t reach the finals of Miss India but told one of the finalists, Gauri Pradhan that she is destined for bigger things. “She told me I have gone mad.” Years later Gauri played her bahu in Kyunki…Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. She refused to return home after Miss India contest and instead joined McDonald’s Bandra outlet. “I thought they will make me a manager but they found me fit for back room operations…cleaning, dusting.” In between she also joined courier business and was among the first women in the business but didn’t like when the credit for her good work went to her father. “And when I goofed up, I was again compared to my father.” While working at McDonald’s she kept giving auditions and one day she got to know that one Neelam is not well and she could replace her for an episode.
“When I went there, I realised it is actress Neelam Kothari who is indisposed and I am supposed to anchor “Ooh La La La”. I was asked whether I can speak Hindi. I found it stupid but later realised it is really difficult to find people who can speak correct Hindi, particularly in Mumbai, where ayenga, khayenga is the norm.” She gives it to the destiny that she got that episode and was noticed by Ekta Kapoor and the rest is a well-documented history. She didn’t utilise her Tulsi image for commercial use. “Despite repeated offers I didn’t accept any advertisement where I had to endorse something as Tulsi Virani. “One of the pan masala brands had offered me such a huge sum that I didn’t need to work again. Recently I called up my parents to tell them honesty is indeed the best policy but you have to pay a price for it,” she laughs.
Why politics? “Through politics, I want to realise my ideal that if you want change, you have to be that change. I also want to change the image that actors become dumb politicians.” She doesn’t mouth dialogues of her serials on popular demand during BJP rallies and understands the party’s manifesto. “And the party has responded to my sincerity. It made me the head of the youth wing – I might have played an old Tulsi but I am 33 – in Maharashtra and then elevated me to the post of general secretary.” But the recent elections showed that the youth wing of Congress has much more charisma? “My party believes in collective responsibility and I believe in an ideology and a vision for a new India, which has nothing to do with age or gender. Anybody can contribute towards a strong, secure India.” Talk of owning up!ANUJ KUMAR